14 Sep ‘Old Wow’
Despite his fresh-faced boyish looks, Sam Lee’s album, ‘Old Wow’ digs deep into oral folk music traditions with the wisdom of an old soul. I am a funk music fan. Folk is out of my comfort zone, but I am lured in by the meanings of words that ache with melancholy, and the bass lines that creep along in tracks like ‘Lay This Body Down’.
He offers a brilliant synthesis of old and new. He uses or re-imagines folk songs learned from singers of disappearing oral traditions. He arranges modern fusions to bring these songs to new ears – using an eclectic mix, which includes double bass, piano, percussion, guitar and violin. The arrangements come alive, full of sorrow and the beauty of nature.
‘Soul Cake’ begins with three verses of ‘Green Grow the Rushes O’ – a folk song, which goes back centuries, weaving astrological and Christian symbolism inextricably together. I sat as a small child next to my mother on the piano stool, enjoying the oral yoga of singing its ‘jibberish’. Now, the poetic lines hang between my ears. Lee has re-written this as a foray into mortality. Symbols from the original build into a counting song that describes the circle of life. Lee winds folk poetry with the harmonies of grief. ‘Old Wow’ reminds me of the magic of Scott Walker’s haunting lyrics, served with an inducement to love life.
Watching him perform at the Medicine Festival was stirring. He orchestrated the crowd to sing a powerful nine-part lament. I was moved as we sang a Requiem for nine recently extinct species: the Pyrenean Brown Bear, Passenger Pigeon, Eurasian Wolf, Rita’s Island Lizard, Large Blue Butterfly, Bermuda Night Heron, Eskimo Curlew, Silver Trout, and Charles Island Tortoise. In his own words, Sam Lee aims to create: “a timeless bridge, music that can be looking both backward and forwards, and a soulful accompaniment to an urgent need to fall back in love with nature if we are to know how to protect it”.