Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker breathe fresh air into classic folk sounds while also managing to travel beyond the characteristics of any one genre.
It’s a tough prospect for any aspiring folk artist... how does one stay true to the ideals of classic folk in a musical landscape saturated by indie folk/pop hybrids? It’s a question that British folk duo, Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, are able to answer in seemingly effortless fashion.
Clarke and Walker are hardly new to the game, however. Their latest record, Overnight, is their fourth in five years. As if they weren’t prolific enough, the two-piece also released another EP earlier this year for good measure. On Overnight the pair have taken a no-frills editing approach and attempted to draw on the sounds of Nick Drake and Neil Young, among others.
That isn’t to say that the record is textually sparse. In fact, Clarke and Walker are able to integrate an impressive collection of different musical sounds into Overnight, including interjections from the euphonium, French horn, saxophone and various stringed instruments. As impressive is the duo’s capability for a diverse array of different songwriting styles. The result? An album which owes much to its folk music identity, but is also not tied down to genre constraints. Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker breathe fresh air into classic folk sounds while also managing to travel beyond the characteristics of any one genre.
Take "Milk and Honey", for instance. It’s an album track which occurs towards the end of the record. While it would have been easy to slip into habit towards the end of the record, the duo include a smooth jazz-influenced saxophone solo which blends seamlessly with Clarke’s vocals. The following track, "The Waning Crescent", feels as if it would be at home in the repertoire of a café jazz combo, thanks in no small part to the track’s light drum work, the inclusion of a Rhodes piano and Clarke’s Norah Jones-esque vocals.
While these influences are perhaps unsurprising (the pair’s earlier work has always been ready to nod at jazz stylings), Clarke and Walker flirt with the genre more confidently than ever on this album. At the same time, however, the record is able to stay true to the duo’s appreciation for classic folk. A stirring cover of Gillian Welch’s "Dark Turn of Mind" is one of the album’s most powerful moments, while single "Something Familiar" helps the pair maintain that they are folkier folks than ever. Most of the tracks, with their light acoustic guitar work and down-to-earth aesthetic, are clearly folk music, but the album’s trajectory is never stagnant in its genre influences.
The album closes in subdued manner with "Light of Day", a melancholic gem which blends classical guitar sounds with orchestral strings and traditional folk storytelling. As Clarke sings, "When I take to tell the tale / To turn the trick that tripped my tongue / It will be the sweetest sound the saddest soul has ever sung", we can’t help but feel the same way of the record as a whole. Overnight is a thing of intricate, enigmatic beauty. There’s a kind of redemptive grace about it, which is complemented by subtlety and attention to detail. On the whole, it may be the "sweetest sound" that the duo have ever produced. You will struggle to find a more tender album this year.