Oliver Goodyear
17:40 9th February 2006
Some of the greatest musicians of all time are defined by their contrariety, their desire to pitch their art in opposition to whatever has come before it. It might not make them particularly likeable, but it can lead to fascinating and exciting music. That being said, few artists have ever truly escaped the shackles of musical history, and many others have been equally radical whilst still recognising their place in a continuum. Tricky, the Bristolian rapper whose name is a perfect adjective to describe his elusive music, was famously dismissive of the term ‘trip-hop’ to describe his music, because hip-hop has always been demonstrably trippy.
Such derision may well toll the demise of ‘nu-folk’ as journalistic nomenclature for a motley collection of players from Britain, the U.S. and Finland because, ultimately, the term is superfluous – ‘folk’ is a perfectly adequate catch-all which also serves to illustrate the essential continuity between this new music and forebears like Bert Jansch and Vashti Bunyan. Hell, Bunyan seems to be on about a third of all nu-folk releases, so really, what’s all that nu about it?
Which is not to say that there are not boundaries still to be pushed at, of course. Nalle have a go, in their own gentle way, at marking out new territory, and are moderately successful. The trio begin each song so quietly that it’s hard to tell where the tuning up ends and the piece begins, which might be their intention. The music is light as air – violin, bouzouki and guitar form a melodic core – through which the singer sometimes soars, sometimes flutters. Her exploration of vocal texture is modest but frequently, and delightfully, effective. At times she summons to mind Joanna Newsom venturing into terrain mapped out by David Bowie on side two of 'Low'. The uncharacteristic burst of handclapping and general hey-nonny-nonny-ness which concludes their set is, in these circumstances, entirely welcome.
Some of the same musicians make up the headline act, but little of Nalle’s charm is carried over into The One Ensemble of Daniel Padden. If Padden would like to be seen as one of the iconoclasts of this new folk movement, he really needs to try harder to project personality ahead of musicianship. His songs are a nothingness, sterile and leaden, and his reedy voice is lost in Holy Trinity’s cavernous interior. He comes off like a conservertoire-trained dilettante flirting with pastoral themes, and creates a muddy brown chamber music which is neither likeable nor memorable.