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Sleep On Sleeping On


The Woodbine & Ivy Band's lineup again features a wealth of Manchester's finest musicians, capturing a magical folk oeuvre flecked with psych, prog, jazz, and country rock. Partly inspired by G. I. Gurdjieff's theories on "waking sleep," this collection of ten tracks sounds appropriately out of step and out of time, as if the product of an off-kilter dream; of instinct or the subconscious. Where their 2011 debut drew comprehensively on folk tradition, earning glittering reviews and favorable comparisons with the likes of Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention, and Crazy Horse, Sleep On Sleeping On pulls in a different direction. Alongside three traditional folk songs and three covers, there are four original compositions too, all steeped in careworn tradition yet fresh and invigorated. For the first album they worked with a different singer for each song, but here all vocal duties are taken care of by two highly contrasting voices: the soft, amorphous voice of Jenny McCormick and the coarser tones of James Raynard. The album is indebted to such British folk classics as The Albion Band's Rise Up Like the Sun and Lal & Mike Waterson's Bright Phoebus, but that pedigree is augmented by gracefully textured arrangements of pedal steel, horns, drones, and glissandos, along with pastoral synth washes like a Klaus Schulze soundtrack for a film about allotments. From the woozy, ethereal title-track to the gorgeously plaintive folk rock of "Arm a Nation," "Jackdaws," and "Pretty Fly Lullaby," they conjure forgotten memories from sparse instrumentation and, on the latter, Morricone-esque harmonies. Meanwhile, the gentle guitar melody of "Old Man" recalls Bert Jansch, and Lal Waterson's "Flight of the Pelican" is similarly stripped-down and eerie. "White Hare" imagines swirling organ, rousing horns, heavy piano chords, and crunching, fuzzy guitars, and "One Summer Day" is a psych-fuelled state; a dizzying fever of a groove that sounds like Popol Vuh, Stereolab, and Steely Dan jamming in a community sewing center. The centerpiece of the album is "Minstrel and the King," written by Gerald T. Moore and originally performed by Heron on their 1971 second album. Here, it's a nine-minute, piano-led tour de force with mournful horns, saxophone solo, and an extended coda, dripping with melancholy but oddly euphoric with its insistent melody and unerring rhythm. Equally poignant is the closing track "Rebel Soldier," an American Civil War song re-wired here as a hauntingly fragile, piano-led lament underscored by horns and twanging guitar.