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The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine. This album was reviewed in Issue 92 of The Living Tradition magazine.
Jack McNeill and Charlie Heys have already gained an enviable reputation. Finalists in the BBC Radio2 Young Folk Awards, their first two albums were released to quite some critical acclaim. They serve a sound which is fresh and innovative amongst contemporaries, who are too often staid and dusty. This is no average folk singer-songwriter fare. McNeill’s strong, husky voice and expressive guitar are accompanied by Heys’ exquisite and sometimes haunting fiddle-playing. On this, their third release, the Birmingham-based duo has added Scottish harp, double bass and percussion, thereby developing their musical style. There is a momentum building within this act.
On Two Fine Days the stories are told with poetic warmth, intelligent lyrics and beautiful harmonies. The opener, Last Orders is an upbeat, heartening and catchy song with its home in the rocky Highlands as the fiddle skips and the soft harmonies echo upon the Gaelic landscape. The journey then heads south to the border as Debatable Lands tells the story of hundreds of years of conflict between the Scots and the English. It is a sparse and terrible tale which depicts a bloody, forsaken history. The hopeless scene manifests through the melancholy beauty of the music. This song is not about taking sides or political posturing. Rather it reveals the story with a sorrowful charm.
The title track is a tender song looking back at the people, words and small decisions that can have such a profound effect on a life and can stay with somebody for a lifetime. Fiddle takes equal billing with the voice, both lyrical and musical story-telling.
There’s Something In The Telling is another poignant and uplifting track as Heys’ enchanting string work intertwines with McNeil’s hushed vocal. A story of swimming, shivering in the cold water – a dark night of embracing experience and forming one’s own destiny.
The delicate Seaglass is a beautifully worked song with a tune at its heart that lingers once the album has concluded. Seaglass refers to “bits of glass that have been tossed and tumbled in the waves to finally be thrown back to shore”. McNeill alludes to unexpected beauty being created from the breaking of glass – a remoulding, a rebirth.
There is optimism and an ingrained sense of wonder as the album draws to the final stanza and Little Ginger softly weaves it’s atmospheric, instrumental way, and the credits roll. This tune is subtle and traditional and eases the album to a close.
The song writing on Two Fine Days is undeniably moving and it would seem that Jack and Charlie have really hit form on this one, having already impressed on their previous outings. The folkiness of Heys’ fiddle is well-balanced with the Jack McNeill’s wonderfully earthy vocals whose modern narrative captures the imagination from the outset. It is pleasing that they have expanded the band on this album as this has given them more room for development and more creative options. There is a feeling that this is only an early step on a long journey.
This is a progressive and forward-thinking folk album which is beautiful, relaxing, intelligent and engaging. Those seeking something new and distinct will find it here in this impressive release… Craig Walker, Folk Radio UK May 2012
Fans of ‘traditional’ British folk will also like Two Fine Days by Jack McNeill and Charlie Heys. The album sings with Hey’s beautiful, maudlin, violin playing (she also plays banjo) and it mixes well with McNeil’s warm vocals and acoustic guitar. The former students at the Birmingham Conservatoire are joined on Two Fine Days by Hannah Phillips on Scottish harp, Sean Law on Double Bass and the renowned percussionist Tom Chapman (Urban Folk Quartet). The highlights are a gorgeous set of instrumentals, titled The Kiss; a love song called Something In The Telling and Little Ginger, a violin-led lament (and fond farewell) to Heys’s “much loved ginger dog, Jack”… The Telegraph, May 2012
Jack McNeill and Charlie Heys’ album The Northern Road has been on constant rotation on my iPod for the last couple of years. It’s one of those albums I can reach back to at any time, no matter what mood I’m in, and always enjoy. So I was pretty excited to learn that the UK duo have just released their brand new long player Two Fine Days.
McNeill (guitar and vocals) and Heys (fiddle) have a real timelessness to their music. On Two Fine Days they are joined by Hannah Phillips on Scottish harp, Sean Law on Double Bass and the renowned percussionist Tom Chapman… Timber and Steel, May 2012
Praise for their second album, “The Northern Road“…
“real folk – not nu-folk, folktronica, or some other apologetically named subgenre – and it doesn’t seem to need reinventing.”… The Sunday Times
“Jack McNeill and Charlie Heys sound refreshingly like real folk music even if the two met while studying at Birmingham Conservatoire. The Northern Road FELLSIDE **** combines singer/guitarist McNeill’s modern narratives with Heys’ beguiling fiddle. McNeill’s earthy voice adds just the right grit under the fingernails… UNCUT May ’10
“The Birmingham-based, Young Folk Awards-nominated duo’s free-spirited music sounds centuries old. It’s not, and their fresh guitar and violin set-up adds a rare sparkle to traditional hues.”… Q May ’10
****… Rock ‘n’ Reel
“Among the many formidable young English players around at the moment, these two are up there with the best.”… Taplas May ’10
“The current crop of young folk bands usually falls into one of two camps: either firmly rooted in the tradition, or the “nu-folk” generation, who come from the rootsy singer-songwriter end of the spectrum; very few bands manage to span the two. But former BBC Young Folk Awards finalists Jack McNeill and Charlie Heys are a delightful exception, incorporating the quirky freshness of nu-folk with the integrity and accomplished musicianship of traditional music. Their new CD comprises beautiful and perceptive lyrics written by Jack, with his delicate guitar and Charlie’s accomplished fiddle lending weight and breadth to the songs. The opening track, Roots In Ngwedo, is lovely. The sparse vocals contrast with Charlie’s rich playing, and the texture and variety in the arrangement are a real eye-opener. The Wooden Boy is more traditionally-influenced, intense and passionate, while Cathedrals is a haunting instrumental. In fact, there are many highlights on this album, and its variety and depth are especially surprising considering the relative youth of its creators. Jack McNeill and Charlie Heys are a relatively new presence on the folk scene, but they seem destined for a bright future.”…Properganda 15, February ‘10
‘’This young duo may be steeped in English music but they have something pleasingly reminiscent of the current wave of US folk innovators – the rustic Bon Ivers and Iron & Wines making delicate, introspective inquiries into modern life and how we live it. Maybe it’s McNeill’s earthy, evocative Cumbrian tones and imaginative acoustic guitar, maybe it’s Heys’s freewheeling violin lines, maybe it’s the homely warmth and obvious joy in their delivery. Either way, while they haven’t yet hit the level of those US acts, it’s easy to see why they picked up a Radio 2 Young Folk Awards nomination for their debut album – and they should earn plenty more if they keep building on the rich promise of this follow-up.’… Morning Star, February ‘10
“Light up all the Beacons“…
“Delivered with commitment and passion, these highly descriptive sound-stories are beautifully set against [Jack’s] understated, melodic guitar playing and Charlie’s perfectly judged fiddle accompaniments.”…Rock ‘n’ Reel
“Undeniably impressively talented…thoughtful and intelligent songs…brimful of interest and promise…this album will turn out to be rather a grower.”…fROOTS
“Emotionally charged…Jack’s characterful voice and contemporary guitar styling’s blended beautifully with Charlie’s fiddle in a display of well-controlled aural dynamics.” …BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards
“uncompromising, a trifle elusive, even daunting-paradoxically, it’s actually these qualities that make it so exciting.”…Properganda
“This is excellent contemporary acoustic music with evident roots associations but clear originality and character and inspiring musicianship”…Shire Folk
“Light up all the Beacons is not just a debut album, it’s a message. Spread the news! This is only the beginning.”…Taplas