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Reviews for “Poor Strange Girl” Released 10th June 2016

“Maybe once or twice a year a peach of an album leaps out of the review pile, grabs you by the throat and assaults your ears with wave after wave of originality and musical perfection” FATEA

FATEA Magazine

Maybe once or twice a year a peach of an album leaps out of the review pile, grabs you by the throat and assaults your ears with wave after wave of originality and musical perfection. Poor Strange Girl is just one of those albums.

Alice Jones is a proud Yorkshire-woman who has grown up with folk music in her blood, resulting in a keen interest in the genre both musically and academically, and a consequent encyclopaedia of material on which to draw. A multi-instrumentalist blessed with a voice of liquid clarity, tinted with a lovely warm Yorkshire twang, Alice has paid her dues as a pianist, session musician and collaborator across God’s own county for several years.

Alice has also spent time working with Pete Coe, studying and researching the works of Victorian folk song collector Frank Kidson. Their show ‘The Search for Five Finger Frank’ and 2014 album of the same name are both well worth seeking out.

Her debut solo album is therefore well overdue, and is clearly a labour of love. Joined only by acclaimed fiddler Tom Kitching (Pilgrims’ Way) and Hugh Bradley (Whiskey Priests) on double bass, Alice provides all vocals, piano, harmonium, whistle and tenor guitar contributions herself, to superb effect. Of the twelve tracks, most are carefully chosen trad/arrs, punctuated by a handful of original tunes which stand up well alongside the traditional material.

Alice’s multi-instrumental talents are showcased neatly on the first three tracks of the album. The title track opens the album, a dark tale of misfortune based on a song collected by Cecil Sharp in Kentucky in 1917. Alice says in the sleeve notes that while singing this song she enjoys being able “to repeatedly declare that ‘I am a pure strange girl’ which is, of course, true.” Alice’s rhythmic guitar and Kitching’s lively fiddle drive the song along at a foot-tapping pace.

The highlight of the album, among strong competition, is Woody Knows Nothing. Sourced from an Erik Darling record called ‘True Religion’, and accompanying herself expressively on piano, it is a simple yet inspiring composition based on the fragility of love, sung tenderly here with lucidity and precision, degrees of emotion injected in all the right places. Beautiful.

Next come a set of original tunes The Larkman/The Herron Tree, showcasing Alice’s elegant whistle playing and indeed composing skills. These attributes are also presented in two lively mazurkas, written as wedding presents for friends, and in Digerpolskan, a Swedish polska written by Göran Fredrikson, and the upbeat original Duhk Strut Reel, written for her friend Leonard Podolak (of Canadian folk fusion band The Duhks).

Alice’s haunting harmonium and Kitching’s atmospheric fiddle most effectively accompany a version of the traditional murder ballad The Cruel Mother. Two songs from the Frank Kidson collection are also present, Green Bushes being unusual in the folk canon in which a woman gets to be the philanderer, another delightful vocal performance accompanied by restrained piano and fiddle. When I Am Far Away meanwhile is a lively broadside with nicely layered harmony vocals and harmonium backing.

Another album highlight is Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still, a moving song of loss and remembrance from the collection of Frank and Anne Warner sourced from the Appalachian Mountains. Beautifully sung here with poignant piano accompaniment.

Another song from the Warner collection, The Castle By The Sea, sourced in 1940, sees a ‘false young man’ drowned in the sea by a woman exacting revenge on behalf of the sisterhood, which might explain why Alice appears to be enjoying relaying the story so much. Kitching’s controlled fiddle accompaniment draws the listener in to the tale.

Adieu To Old England is a ‘riches to rags’ tale of recession-induced misery which rings as true today as ever, and is delightfully performed here with expressive vocal and complementary piano accompaniment.

Long, Long Trail A-Winding closes the album, a popular WW1 song dedicated here to the memory of Alice’s ‘Terrace Gran’, neighbour Kath Richards, another song of loss or longing, simply performed here with atmospheric harmonium backing.

Overall, Alice Jones’s multi-instrumental skills, enchanting vocal talent and inspired choice of material all add up to a mightily impressive and mature debut.

Ian Taylor

“This Poor Strange Girl has given us a beautiful and thoughtfully sequenced disc with year-best contender writ all over it” fRoots

fRoots Magazine

Born and raised in Ripponden (one of Yorkshire’s westernmost outposts), Alice was first exposed to folk music by her parents, since when her interest has persisted, encouraged and nurtured by the mighty Ryburn 3-Step organisation. Alice is an enviably proficient singer and multi-instrumentalist, in demand for ceilidhs and session work. Her most recent collaboration was with the indefatigable Pete Coe on the brilliantly researched presentation The Search For Five Finger Frank, based on the legacy of Frank Kidson. However, she’s sensibly waited until good and ready to release a solo album, with the happy result that Poor Strange Girl proves a magnificent showcase for her versatility. Perhaps the most immediately striking aspect of Alice’s artistry is that she’s a significantly impressive singer. Her voice has real personality and stature, with unpretentious, forthright Yorkshire relish. It possesses a depth and substance which both informs her interpretations and lets her penetrate to the essence of her chosen songs, generally drawn from English or American folk tradition. Alice’s singing also displays an intuitive sense of rhythm (likely stemming from her expertise as a dancer – Appalachian and longsword), as does her stylish self-accompaniment (piano, harmonium, whistle and tenor guitar). Her piano playing, while bold and full-toned, is refreshingly unlaboured and fluid. On this CD she benefits additionally
from the instrumental skills of Tom Kitching (fiddle) and Hugh Bradley (bass), both on the songs and on three enchanting tune-sets (self-penned bar a Swedish polska). On The Cruel Mother, the unsettling melody and its scoring of jabbing fiddle, bowed bass and harmonium furnishes a suitably sinister aura for the engaging narrative. Alice follows this with an enthralling pianobacked rendition of Green Bushes, an outstanding performance that complements equally insightful accounts of Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still and the delightful Erik Darling ‘adaptation’ Woody Knows Nothing, while First World War popular song Long Long Trail provides the affectionate album closer. This Poor Strange Girl has given us a beautiful and thoughtfully sequenced disc with year-best contender writ all over it.

David Kidman

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“Her voice shines out of the music.” 4* R2

“An astute and tender album. A must have release.” 4* Maverick

“Poor Strange Girl is an impressive album of traditional songs and tunes, carefully chosen, arranged and performed by a talented vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, who breathes life and soul into her music” Bright Young Folk

the bright young folk review

Poor Strange Girl is an excellent showcase of Alice Jones’ many and varied talents, from her engaging vocals and multi-instrumental skills to her ear for selecting fine songs and tunes spanning the breadth of traditional English music, and beyond. Having listened to and enjoyed this album, listeners will come away having being treated to a selection of traditional music expertly delivered by this talented new folk artist.

Jones’ vocals are pure, clear and authentic to her Yorkshire roots. In her music you sense a deep appreciation and understanding of the stories and people behind each song. Some tracks will be recognised as coming from the historical collections of Sharp, Kidson and the Warners, whilst some have been written more recently, and others collected from further afield.

Piano playing and vocals are exquisite in Woody Knows Nothing, a tale of nature and love originally from the singing of Erik Darling. Jones’ arrangement and delivery brings a warm and reflective glow to this gentle American folktale.

The pace picks up in Wedding Mazurkas, a set of two tunes, self-written, as gifts for the weddings of two friends. These are joyful and uplifting tunes played on the whistle and accompanied on harmonium and double bass.

A dark and atmospheric rendition of the murder ballad, The Cruel Mother, with droning harmonium, menacing fiddle and haunting harmonies, is testament to Jones’s talents in delivering a memorable performance of this traditional classic.

Castle by The Sea, whilst also a somewhat dark story, is a surprisingly upbeat song in which the lady triumphs against the evil and cruelty of a false lover. Again, Jones delivers an enjoyable and vocally captivating performance of this excellent song.

Adieu to Old England is treated to a fresh, almost bluesy, interpretation. Jones has brought an additional relevance and modernity to this well-loved song, whose lyrics about changing fortunes and fond memories remain as poignant today as when it was originally written.

Poor Strange Girl is an impressive album of traditional songs and tunes, carefully chosen, arranged and performed by a talented vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, who breathes life and soul into her music. Whilst there are many highlights on this album, every track has its own significant merit. On the basis of this excellent first album we will be hearing a lot more from Alice Jones, and she will be known for great things within traditional music.

Andy McMillan

“Just as the prospectors of old filled with excitement when finding that one nugget of solid gold so comes the shining debut album of super-talented, Yorkshire songstress Alice Jones.” Folk All

Folk All Blog Spot

Just as the prospectors of old filled with excitement when finding that one nugget of solid gold so comes the shining debut album of super-talented, Yorkshire songstress Alice Jones.

Earning brownie points straight away by singing in her regional accent, Jones joins those who proud to keep their work grounded in their backgrounds such as Kate Rusby, Fay Hield and The Unthanks, to name but a few.

Jones is joined, on this impressive showcase of her singing, songwriting and musical talents, by Tom Kitching – from the wonderful Pilgrims’ Way – and Hugh Bradley from The Whisky Priests.

The opening and title track has a folk pedigree that is as impressive as its execution. You know from the style it’s Americana but Jones puts her northern stamp on the dark tale.

This is followed by arguably the best track on the album. Woody Knows Nothing is a gentle ballad about love which has nothing but Jones’ lovely soft tones which she highlights with wonderfully minimalist piano playing. This is one of those songs you can play over and over and never get tired of hearing it.

The Larkman/The Herron Tree (sic) are the first of the instrumental tunes on the album and have a real history, almost Medieval feel to them even though they were created by Jones. Her talent for the whistle comes to the fore on the first tune skipping the notes along at a fair old pace, and Kitching keeps step on the fiddle. They crank things up a notch for the second part almost as if racing each other.

Jones then brings her version of The Cruel Mother to the table. Her voice is more storyteller than singer and is suitably dour for this ballad about child killings with her harmonium adding a brooding and sinister edge to this well-travelled tale.

The haunting sound of her piano playing brings in her arrangement of Green Bushes a good solid folk tale of philandering. Jones’ singing is subtle, serene and superb as she performs it almost as a hymn. Her singing is accented again by her gentle keyboard skills with Kitching coming in with a lovely lilting harmony on the strings. Jones’ voice comes with a real clarity that pushes out every syllable as though exhibiting them as separate entities.

The second of her instrumental offerings is Wedding Masurkas, two tunes she wrote as wedding presents. The tunes are beautifully light whistle playing carried along by the droning harmonium almost as though to stop proceedings getting too frivolous.

She does know how to wring every drop out of notes she plays on the keyboard. Nothing is wasted and her arrangement of Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still is put together and executed with laser precision to create a song which borders on the spiritual.

It’s one of the longest tracks on the album and she has that gentleness of word you associate with Ange Hardy. Frank Kidson‘s collection is plundered for When I Am Far Away. Jones’ singing style lends itself perfectly to this broadside and you realise just how uncluttered her tunes are. Kitching’s rasping sound on the fiddle and the resonance of the harmonium are enough to carry the clarity of her singing.

Jones’ goes back to her whistle playing for the third of the instrumentals, Digerpolskan/The Duhk Street Reel. The first part has the feel of a lonely shepherd playing for his own amusement as he watches the flock grazing. The second part picks up the pace up with the whistle turning over a tune which has a strong ethnic feel to it.

Adieu To Old England is a tale of recession and how lives are affected with ordinary things in life standing as metaphors for how people struggle with even the basics of everyday existence. Jones uses a very matter of fact style of singing which seems to echo the bleakness of the narrative for what is the longest track on the album.

Jones goes back to her storytelling style for her arrangement of The Castle By the Sea which is another died-the-wool folk tale of intrigue, treachery and death. She slows down the narrative to the point where she is almost orating the tale from a book. There seems to be a disparity between her singing and the fiddle accompaniment so the instrumental is always noticeable but somehow it works.

The final track Long, Long Trail A-Winding is another arrangement from the singer/dancer. It does have the feel of a music hall song until it switches to something which isn’t a million miles away from It’s A Long Way To Tipperary and suddenly the realisation that this is about WWI dawns. Her use of the harmonium gives it the feel of the church-like rallies they used to have to whip up fervour for the troops while at the same time having the sadness of a dirge.

This may be a debut album but Jones already has an impressive track record of festivals and sessions work behind her as well as a deep interest in folk music, all of which has culminated in a first album which is a shining example of just how good British folk can be.

“An unusually powerful debut” 4* Songlines

“This record sets musical standards few established artists could match. Just stunning.”  Living Tradition

“She has the rare knack of the great folk artist — getting so directly to the heart of the matter that it’s as if she lived inside every song, while still conveying something much older and deeper than any one singer.” Morning Star

Morning Star

THERE’S a brace of bold debuts from wildly talented musicians to enthuse about this month, kicking off with Alice Jones’s Poor Strange Girl (Splid Records).

To hear Jones open her mouth — and she has a rich, earthy voice not a million miles from her fellow Yorkshirewoman Fay Hield — you might assume, correctly, that she was raised from the cradle in the English tradition.

But this playful transatlantic collage quickly makes it clear she’s equally at home with American folk.

It ranges from the ancient murder ballad The Cruel Mother — given a spectral edge by Jones’s harmonium and skilled fiddler Tom Kitching — to the first world war standard Long, Long Trail A-Winding via the Appalachian tearjerker Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still.

Clear, simple arrangements give Jones the space to show she has the rare knack of the great folk artist — getting so directly to the heart of the matter that it’s as if she lived inside every song, while still conveying something much older and deeper than any one singer.

“Alice maintains her own distinctive Yorkshire vernacular throughout, which gives the songs their powerful earthiness.” Northern Sky

Northern Sky

There appears to have been quite a lot of ground covered before the arrival of this debut solo album by singer, multi-instrumentalist and dancer Alice Jones. The Ripponden-based artist has managed to substantially soak up the folk traditions of both Britain and America, having been raised in a folk music household and has subsequently managed to blend them all together in a rich melting pot of traditional song and dance tunes. In places reminiscent of Rachel and Becky Unthank’s early recordings, especially on such songs as The Cruel Mother, Woody Knows Nothing and the beautiful Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still, Alice maintains her own distinctive Yorkshire vernacular throughout, which gives the songs their powerful earthiness. At times the album feels like two very different albums in one, with the delicate songs providing one half whilst the whistle-led instrumentals provide us with the other. With the ever reliable Tom Kitching on fiddle and Hugh Bradley on double bass, Alice takes command of the rest, all of which reveals a fine debut and potentially gives us a new voice to watch out for in the future.

Allan Wilkinson

“This striking voice, once heard falls squarely into the realm of ‘unforgettable’.” Folk Words

Folk Words

‘Poor Strange Girl’ from Alice Jones – traditional songs interweaved with original tunes (June 20, 2016)

If you want to hear the English folk tradition delivered as it should be then take time with the debut solo album from singer, multi-instrumentalist and dancer Alice Jones. The mix of tradition from both sides of the Atlantic can only come from a profound understanding of and empathy for England’s the folk tradition augmented by an abiding interest in and affinity for American folk.

When you listen to ‘Poor Strange Girl’, and you definitely should, you will be treated to songs and tunes from a dual heritage and the vibrant interpretations Alice applies to their presentation. Within the album, tradition sits comfortably alongside invention, songs collected by such worthies as Sharp, Kidson, Frank and Anne Warner interweave perfectly with self-penned original tunes.

Alice Jones possesses a clear and inimitable voice that brings out the essence of each song, sympathetic to the narrative and the message. Her compassionate arrangements bring traditional material into a contemporary focus without ever compromising the integrity of the legacy. Her tunes demonstrate both clear affinity for her chosen instruments and a consummate flair for composition with ‘The Larkman/ The Herron Tree’ and ‘Wedding Mazurkas’. Songs like ‘Poor Strange Girl’ collected by Sharp from Kentucky, the multi-versioned ‘The Cruel Mother’ an arresting version of ‘Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still’ and a riveting take on ‘Adieu to Old England’ all benefit from this lady’s striking voice, which once heard falls squarely into the realm of ‘unforgettable’.

“an interesting collection of traditional songs and a thoughtful debut offering.” Songwriting Magazine

Songwriting Magazine

On her debut solo album this Ripponden-based folk artist combines her talented instrumental ability with an array of traditional songs

Poor Strange Girl is the debut solo album from Yorkshire singer/multi-instrumentalist Alice Jones, a well-known face on the folk circuit through her work with The John Dipper Band and Peter Coe. Though Jones tackles much of the music herself, the fiddle of Tom Kitching (Pilgrim’s Way) and double bass of Hugh Bradley (The Whiskey Priests) adds extra depth to much of the record.

The songs, such as the title track, Woody Knows Nothing and The Cruel Mother are traditional folk songs which Jones has altered to varying degrees. Her soft Yorkshire accent often shines through and lends the record a conversational tone which seems a fitting way of passing these tales down to a new audience. Standout track Adieu To Old England is a simple piano ballad with a riches to rag story worth heeding.

Final song Long, Long Trail A-Winding closes the sepia-tinged album and is a showcase for Jones’ affecting harmonium playing. Poor Strange Girl may be too esoteric for the mainstream but within the world of folk it is an interesting collection of traditional songs and a thoughtful debut offering.

Verdict: Traditional tales reworked with due care

“This is definitely her album and very good it is too.” Folking.com

Folking.com

You’re probably thinking that you’ve heard of Alice Jones before, and you probably have: The Gina Le Faux Trio, The John Dipper Band and her collaboration with Pete Coe working on the Frank Kidson collection as well as what seems like a dozen other things in her native Yorkshire. Poor Strange Girl, however, is her first solo album.

Alice sings the way she speaks which isn’t always a given even now. Despite that, she casts her musical net wide. The title track, which opens the set, was collected by Cecil Sharp in Kentucky and, even before I read her sleeve notes, I had the feeling that she was referring to herself. Next is ‘Woody Knows Nothing’, adapted from traditional sources by the late Erik Darling and we’re still a few thousand miles from Yorkshire. As well as an interpreter of traditional songs Alice is also a composer and musician, playing keyboards, whistle and tenor guitar so next up is the first set of tunes, both written by her before the first traditional songs collected in England, ‘The Cruel Mother’ and ‘Green Bushes’; the latter from the Kidson collection.

Variety is one of the selling points of the album. There is a set of mazurkas and another of polskas; two fine songs from the Warner collection; a very timely version of ‘Adieu To Old England’ and ‘Long, Long Trail A-Winding’ to finish.

Poor Strange Girl was produced by Jon Loomes and Alice is supported by Tom Kitching on fiddle and Hugh Bradley on double bass but this is definitely her album and very good it is too.

Dai Jeffries

“Alice Jones can justifiably add her name to a growing list who can be found shaking their fists for folk girl power.” Sonic Bandwagon

Sonic Bandwagon

Hope the choice of title isn’t one which describes Alice. Probably not. A multi-talented multi-tasker, she could be found involved in anything from Appalachian and longsword dancing to playing keyboards, clarinet and tenor guitar, to working with folk legend Pete Coe in exploring the works of Leeds based song collector Frank Kidson.

On the back of all manner of compliments from the likes of the heavyweight folk critics at fRoots, R2 and of course Mike Harding, her debut album must be worth a closer look, especially as there are connections with the Bandwagon home of Pure FM in Stockport – read on. As well as her own musical prowess, she’s enlisted the aid of The Whiskey Priests’, Hugh Bradley (from the mists of time I seem to recall the whiskey priest being a character from Graham Greene’s ‘The Power And The Glory’) and local band, Pilgrims’ Way’s, Tom Kitching on fiddle (local to us Stockport that is).

The origin of the songs sees Alice drawing largely on the traditional and arranging in her own inimitable style. For it is in a distinctive style too, although pay due attention, as you might now and again fall into the trap of thinking someone has slipped an O’Hooley & Tidow CD into the wrong case, or the CD player has gone onto random play. That Yorkshire brogue does sound very familiar – particularly when she sings of being far away from “herme” or feeling “alerne”, a theme which crops up on the title track which opens the album and on occasion for the next hour. Putting God’s own country spin on American and English folk songs, singing in her own voice, her own accent is a positive strength in delivering  folk song and like the cream that rises to the top, there are  some wonderfully modest yet expressive songs. The sound of the harmonium adds nice depth in layers of textures and drones to some of the songs yet it’s the simpler piano based ones that standout as the highlights of the album. ‘Woody Knows Nothing’ makes an immediate impression, a chronicle of the fragility of love while, ‘Green Bushes’ appears more controversially by turning the tables with a female philanderer in the lead role. For the record and local interest, it’s a song collected from Mrs Holt of Meanwood who recalled the song “being sung in Stockport in about 1838”. They act as just a taster for the mid album peak.

‘Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still’ literally is the centre piece. Lifted from the Frank and Anne Warner collection and placed bang in the middle of the album. Within about four or five seconds you sense you’re in for a ride on a tide of emotion. Sensitive and intimate yet bold and combined with the following, ‘When I’m Far Away’ from the Frank Kidson songbook, it’s a potent piece of sequencing. Alice Jones’ debut at its best with a pair of songs which are simply classic cases of the old maxim of less is more.

The odd tune set punctuates the narratives; you get a taste of Alice’s whistle playing on ‘Wedding Mazurkas’, and there’s a nice Flook-y style reel which is all very organic, straight from the greenwood and conjuring up images of merry men frolicking in medieval England. Musically, it allows the Kitching fiddle some space to work, and he makes an early mark on the title track, one of, if not the most dynamic pieces on the album.

‘Green Bushes’ and the acoustic guitar combo and harmonium combine in the excellent, ‘The Castle By The Sea’, both offering stories in which the female protagonist comes out on top and get to chalk up one for the sisterhood – what in more modern times might have been called ‘girl power’. Quite apt actually as Alice Jones can justifiably add her name to a growing list who can be found shaking their fists for folk girl power.

 

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