Tuesday, 7 May 2013

CD Review - Union Jill




Respectable Rebellion


Review by Carys

For the first few seconds of this album's opening track, "The Queen of Holloway", I found myself surprised. The last thing I expected from two Yorkshire lasses was Americana, but there is certainly a tinge of bluegrass laced throughout Sharon Winfield and Helen Turner's brilliant third album, "Respectable Rebellion".


 The aforementioned first track features Andy Seward on banjo, and the voices here could be mistaken for an American twang in places. And yet... this nonetheless manages to remain a wonderfully English folk album by two very talented women. I say that as a compliment of the highest order, because they sing with passion and feeling and you come away convinced that they write and sing from experience.

"The Queen of Holloway" celebrates the Suffragette movement, and it feels only right that I should be listening to it in the week of a local election. Whenever an acquaintance voices their surprise that I have never missed the opportunity to vote, my answer is always the same "Women died so I could vote." It's good to hear them celebrated here by an uptempo opener that demands your attention and then refuses to let go with the next song, "Trailblazer", the story of women who delivered aeroplanes to the front line during the Second World War.

Now, I always feel somewhat uncomfortable with the word 'feminist'. It seems to have so many negative connotations, and yet, many of these songs memorialise incredibly positive female role models, something that is sadly lacking in mainstream society these days. Perhaps this album should be required listening in all schools, so children can understand that women have always done great things, just not always in the public eye. But I digress. 


With a name like Union Jill, surely the collaboration itself is more important, with the whole something far greater than the sum of its parts. A little digging on the interwebs told me that Helen is the soprano and Sharon a tenor, but at times it feels as though they are a single, inseparable entity as they mesh vocals, guitars and mandola, together with guest performances including Fairport's Ric Sanders who lends his virtuoso fiddle playing to 'Morecambe Bay', an angry retelling of the fate of the Chinese cocklepickers in 2004. 
Sharon and Helen

From the disturbing lyrics of "Grandfather's ghost" to the masterful overlapping vocals of "Mad Alice" the latter based on the tale of a woman hanged in York in 1825 for the 'crime' of madness, this is an album that has instant appeal and yet is one you'll find yourself returning to again and again.


I urge you, go out and buy this album. Union Jill has managed to create a unique sound which I hope one day will be instantly recognisable, without ever being predictable.

(www.unionjill.org, released: 11th May 2013)

Hear Union Jill's earlier releases via Soundcloud

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