Traditional folk music at its experimental best

Ben Ray finds Miranda Sykes’ latest release reaches dizzying new heights

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Miranda Sykes. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The double bass isn’t usually the first instrument one thinks of when one thinks of folk music—but the Miranda Sykes’ latest album, borrowed places, seems to stand out in many different ways. You can tell from the first track that it is a beautiful, lovingly crafted collection of carefully chosen songs.

Traditional music, sometimes prey to simplistic repetition of lyric and melody, has sometimes been given a bad press. This album is a clear sign that the form can be the complete opposite—expressive, heartfelt and, most importantly, hugely listenable. Sykes is a veteran of the folk music scene—after playing for over 20 years with such big name groups as Show Of Hands. This solo album displays her verve and skill, with each tune telling a story and holding a personal connection to Sykes.

Coming mainly from her native Lancashire, the stories, in her words, seek to “take the audience on a journey that resonates with us all”: whether it be the exploration of a family story and a mysterious brooch handed down the generations or an interpretation of a local folk tale, each track introduces the listener to a different scene. By the end of the album, it ing near non-existent, she manages to carry feels like we’ve almost been inside a conversation.

A personal favourite is ‘Panchpuran’, telling the story of a a family emigration from India to England and the traditional cooking methods linked to their ancestral home— a testament to the diverse, almost eclectic collection of themes and threads this album contains.

It is Sykes’ distinctive voice, however, that really brings this music alive—even when the accompaniment is sparse to the extent of being non-existent, she manages to carry the tune and bring the lyrics alive.

And when the double bass and guitar do feature prominently, such as on the final track ‘Sea Glass’, its deep echoing resonance seems to give the music a new depth.

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Borrowed Places really is a beautifully expressed piece of traditional musics, engaging and haunting— and I think we can all agree that traditional music just needs more double bass. Or at least, more double bass as good as this.