JAcken Elswyth is a banjo player fascinated by old mountain tunes and drone power. She plays in the freewheeling Shovel Dance Collective, folk improvisers Sullow and runs a cassette label, Betwixt & Between, which has released spoken-word meditations and psychedelic experiences among simpler traditional treatments, her releases decorated by medieval woodcuts.
Elswyth also builds his own instruments, as featured last year Banjo with own-made sound, which included the sounds of sawing, sanding and shaping alongside playing the instrument she made during lockdown. His sounds are regularly beautiful and raw, augmented with scratches, tension and twang, and unleashed on Six Static Scenes.
Influenced by the “odd and irregular moments” on Topic Records’ full roster The people’s voice folk anthologies, each piece is inspired by a piece by a well-known banjo player. Elswyth then builds new ideas from their roots. Scene 1, After Hobart Smith relentlessly repeats a melody from the Arkansas Traveler ballad, making it feel full of light and air, creating a buzzing, eerily meditative space. Scene 2, After Dock Boggs takes the 20 second intro of Boggs performance of the late 19th century song Coal Creek March, full of high banjo harmonics, and turns it into a quivering, shimmering metallic confection still nicely.
Tributes to North Carolina clawhammer player Dink Roberts and Irish traveler Margaret Barry are less avant-garde, more about melody than texture, but the influence of experimental harpist Rhodri Davies and violinist/flutist beak Laura Cannell on Elswyth’s work – which she admitted – is still clear. Like them, she knows how to create atmospheres, and does so with particularly powerful effect during the three minutes of superb bowed banjo in scene 4b, sucking with desire and dread, while showing her talent, her curiosity and her range.
Also out this month
stick in the wheel‘s Perspectives on Tradition (self-produced) presents the duo’s project with Nabihah Iqbal, Olugbenga Adelekan of Metronomy and record player Jon1st, exploring the archives at the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Iqbal’s piano and electronic renditions of Dorset folksongs are particularly breathtaking, while Jon1st transforms Let No Man Steal Your Thyme into eerily persuasive EDM. Michael Taner‘s Vespers/The Blackening (Objects Forever) is the purported latest release from the ambient psych-folk mainstay: a double album and a beautiful snapshot of a few days in the spring, his guitar recorded daily at dusk among birdsong and twigs broken. Tamsin Elliot‘s Frey (self-published) marks the arrival of new British talent, full of beautiful cinematic compositions for accordion, harp, whistle and voice.