Jacken Elswyth: Six Static Scenes review – the tension, twang and beauty of banjo |  Music

Jacken Elswyth: Six Static Scenes review – the tension, twang and beauty of banjo | Music


JAcken Elswyth is a banjo player fascinated with old mountain tunes and the power of the drone. She plays in the freewheeling Shovel Dance Collective, free-folk improvisers Sulow and runs a cassette label, Betwixt & Between, which has released spoken word meditations and psychedelic experiments among simpler traditional treatments, its releases decorated by DIY prints of medieval woodcuts.

Elswyth also builds her own instruments, as presented on last year’s Banjo With the Sound of Its Own Making, which included the sounds of sawing, sanding and shaping alongside the playing of the instrument she made during lockdown. Her sounds from Ella are regularly beautiful and raw, augmented by scratches, tension and twang, and are given free rein on Six Static Scenes.

Jacken Elswyth: Six Static Scenes album cover
Jacken Elswyth: Six Static Scenes album cover

Influenced by “odd and irregular moments” on Topic Records’ comprehensive Voice of the People folk anthologies, each track takes inspiration from a tune 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 ballad Arkansas Traveller, making it feel full of light and air, creating a buzzing, strangely meditative space. Scene 2, After Dock Boggs takes the 20-second intro from Boggs’ performance of late 19th-century tune Coal Creek March, full of high banjo harmonics, and turns it into a metallically juddering confection, which somehow still shimmers prettily.

The 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/recorder player Laura Cannell on Elswyth’s work – which she has admitted – are still clear. Like them, she knows how to knit atmospheres, and does so to especially powerful effect during Scene 4b’s three minutes of stunning bowed banjo, yearning with longing and dread, while showing off her talent, curiosity and range.

Also out this month

Stick in the Wheel‘s Perspectives on Tradition (self-released) showcases the duo’s project with Nabihah Iqbal, Metronomy’s Olugbenga Adelekan and turntablist Jon1st, exploring archives at the English Folk Dance and Song Society HQ. Iqbal’s piano and electronic-led interpretations of Dorset folk songs are especially stunning, while Jon1st turns Let No Man Steal Your Thyme into strangely persuasive EDM. Michael Tanner‘s Vespers/The Blackening (Objects Forever) is the ambient psych-folk mainstay’s alleged final release: a double-album and beautiful snapshot of a few days in spring, his guitar recorded daily at dusk among birdsong and snapped twigs. Tamsin Elliott‘s Frey (self-released) rubber-stamps the arrival of a new British talent, full of beautiful, filmic compositions for accordion, harp, whistle and voice.

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