I get a different view of my music collection by working through it methodically. Particularly now that I'm well into the second half, comparisons become unavoidable. Unlikely similarities and differences reveal themselves, even as the first half recedes in memory. One of the unfolding revelations has been Martin Archer's shapeshifting musical personality, across albums under his own name (1, 2, 3, 4), in collaborations (1, 2) and in bands (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Charting and exploring these different forms has become a casual obsession of mine. Hence, when I saw Martin's label had put out an album with him playing in (and arranging) a folk band, I couldn't resist. Army of Briars is that album.
From the band bio:
Army of Briars is a group in the maverick tradition of British folk related music. The group interested in the extended songforms pioneered by greats such as Pentangle, John Martyn, Incredible String Band, and in the tradition of that line of music as it exists both on stage and in the studio.
Pentangle, yes — less sure about John Martyn and ISB. I found myself thinking of Renaissance and their prog-folk leanings. It's nearly thirty years since I listened to a Renaissance album, so I may have that entirely wrong.
The focus of the music though is Julie Cole’s delivery in a voice of great purity and inner power, and an instantly recognisable sound.
That's true. It sounds like Julie's may be a classically trained voice, yet, overall, the effect is quite different from Lavinia Blackwall's (another classically trained voice in a folk band). The setting of Julie's voice is very clean and clear. I think I prefer my folk music a little more ragged and rough round the edges.
The electronic arrangements on the first album are very much studio creations, as is the case with much of Martin's music, and for live performance the group has opted for an all acoustic lineup with the addition of our friends Paul Schatzberger on accordian [sic] and violin and Angela Rosenfeld on cello, plus other guests from time to time.
I wonder how many live shows they've done. Songkick has no record of any and their MySpace mentions only one. It's a long slog building an audience these days, and I suspect the lack of regular gigging, together with the pared-to-the-bone promotional capacity of Martin's label, may explain why Army of Briars have 71 tracks played by five listeners on Last.fm (and I've just boosted those figures by 20%). Shame, because, though it's not right up my country lane, it's a very well crafted and thoroughly professional piece of work, and the Discus packaging has improved markedly in the last couple of years.
Still to come on Music Arcades, Martin Archer participates in a "single-minded and multi-dimensional modern progressive fusion of metal, free-jazz and ambient noise". So don't stop reading.
Buy direct from Discus (cheaper, better)
Rate Your Music entry for this album
Some metadata about this album at Last.fm