Album Review: Rychard Carrington reviews Beneath Our Humble Soil - The Willows

Beneath Our Humble Soil cover
Local Cambridgeshire Artist


It is no surprise but still a delight that The Willows’ long-awaited debut album is a work of consistent charm, polish and class. Cambridge readers may well be familiar with this group, popular live performers with substantial roots in the local acoustic music scene, who have attracted a large following through their sheer friendliness and good humour, as well as their gentle musical prowess. Here Jade Rhiannon, Cliff Ward, Prue Ward, Stephen MacLachlan and Ben Savage fully deliver their potential. This is folk-derived contemporary music that is right up there with the best. Their popularity is liable to spread rapidly.



While it is Jade’s seductive vocals (sometimes reminiscent of Sandy Denny) that have the strongest initial appeal, it is the astute good taste of the musical arrangements that add dimensions to the sound. Stu Hanna as co-producer must have helped in delivering this aspect so successfully in recording. Such a light and airy sound could be bland, but for a depth of feeling, for the subject matter of their self-penned songs and just in their instinct for music. Every instrument always seems to know just when to come in. The vocal arrangements in themselves are intricate; guitars are classy throughout, and Prue Ward’s fiddle adds a crucial richness. Stephen MacLaghlan’s percussion must be particularly commended for adding texture and rhythm judiciously: in acoustic balladry generally percussion is most often somewhere between superfluous and irritating, so well played Stephen. An interesting and successful addition to the live sound here is the presence of double bass, contributed by three different players (Debs Spanton, Andrew Donovan and Ivan Garfield): nice touch, a cut above the obvious choice of bass guitar. 



The songs tell stories, always rich in atmosphere. A spirit of exuberant, defiant assertion is often evident, especially in the calmly energised Bella’s Fury and my particular favourite The Worker’s War. Of the slower songs, Absent Friends shines out especially. Folk often doesn’t translate well from the stage to the recording, but Beneath Our Humble Soil has a distinctive enchantment that will add grace and character to your living room. 


To cap it all, artist Emmanuel Martin has delivered a particularly arresting cover (see above). This album deserves to be a smash hit.


Writer: Rychard Carrington