Album review: NINEBARROW – A Pocket Full Of Acorns

NINEBARROW – A Pocket Full Of Acorns [Release date 05.03.21]

Ninebarrow – the duo of Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere – were planning to carry on their impressive and relentless series of gigs up and down the country last year. Of course the pandemic put paid to that, but then Ninebarrow are inventive chaps performing a series of high quality streamed gigs, producing a series of walking guides around their native Dorset and releasing the delightful charity single ‘The Hour of the Blackbird’, that featured two choirs. It just shows that you can adapt your music to the times we live in, albeit performing live in front of an audience is a big miss for musicians and fans alike.

Ninebarrow are joined by their band again – Lee Mackenzie (cello), John Parker (percussion) and John Parker (double bass), with Mark Tucker again producing as he did on 2018’s ‘The Waters & The Wild’.

Opener ‘Come January’ perfectly encapsulates Ninebarrow’s sound, an original composition that highlights the way Jon and Jay’s vocals complement each other.

The great thing about folk music is that is can recall the past, be it by reinterpreting folk standards or basing new songs on the past, and comment on the present day, as ‘Under the Fence’ does. This song is based on the duo watching a documentary on one of the refugee camps in Calais. Thought provoking, subtly done and even though a new song, it owes some of its creation to an older song, ‘Cold, Haily, Windy Night’.

The full band sound can be heard on ‘Cry Unity’ – Ninebarrow at their rockiest! The percussion and double bass give this song that extra ‘oomph’ and certainly one for future live sets.

The current popularity of sea shanties should see extra interest in ‘Farewell Shanty’. With Ninebarrow you keep coming back to their vocal prowess and that is ably illustrated on this shanty.

Ninebarrow are adept at giving their own musical spin on folk standards, none more so than on ‘Hey John Barleycorn’. A jaunty number, again one that will become a firm live favourite. John Barleycorn is a personification of the barley crop and he lays down his life each harvest to make…beer!

‘Sailors All’ completes the album in a gentle but memorable way, where the duo’s sublime vocals take centre stage backed by the piano playing of Jon.

The album comes with a wonderfully illustrated and laid out lyric booklet, giving not only the lyrics but the stories behind each song. It really is little touches like this that set this band apart from many of their contempories.

Ninebarrow keep on going from strength to strength and this album is likely to be seen as their best to date, no mean feat given the strength of their previous three albums. A folk album of the year, and indeed any year. ****1/2

Review by Jason Ritchie

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