Zoe Mulford

Small Brown Birds

(Azalea City Recordings)

A quick double take of the cover to check that we don’t have a member of the Mumford family here and whew, what a relief, no. Does the charming 50s style Nature Ramble Annual-style artwork give anything away? We shall press ‘Play’ and find out…what we DO know id that Mulford is an American singer-songwriter now living in the North of England and that fiddle and mandolin wielder Tom Kitching is involved. This is her fifth release and the musicians aboard include percussionist Sam McEvoy, bassist Ken Prendergast plus guests vocalist Pat Wictor, cellist Michael Ronstadt and harmonica player Bob Beach.

Answer The Knock At The Door has a very Appalachian feel as the intro plays, Zoe’s voice isn’t that American or English in delivery, just clear and unfussy. A real tale-teller’s timbres! This is an upbeat number with a welcoming theme in the lyric. The fiddle is classic English folk in style. You cannot listen with that Beatific folk-club sway. A neat chordal progression keeps this steady and traditional in ambience.

Next up is Back Door Key next..surely that’s a real blues lyric, ain’t it? Well not quite. The World War 1 trench harmonica sets an almost melancholy tone but the lyric is an open invitation to an acquaintance to drop by any time with a hint that it just isn’t going to happen. The mandolin sounds great, here. On to February Thunder finds the banjo taken out of the case for another clearly-delivered folk song. I doubt whether there is a folkie hangout anywhere where this wouldn’t go down well. The rhythm section hangs back. One wonders where the early Fairport Convention or the mighty Trees could have taken this number! The coda almost conjures up the dreaded Morris Men with its sprightly rhythm and upright bass. One Damn Thing evokes Ry Cooder’s jumpy ragtime style although it’s a litany of domestic disasters that every family gets hit by sometimes. A bit different and enjoyable.

The Queen Of Skye is a banjo-based sort of shanty; Snow On The Junkyard paints a bleak sonic picture and although maybe the best song here it is a touch chilly. Only to be expected from the title, I know. The best thing so far is the fact that Zoe’s style is not modelled on any one idolised artist as far as I can tell. Some of the phrasing is pure Joni but no quirks, here. Or octave jumping. Maybe she is a Shirley Collins fan or follower? The keening fiddle sounds wonderful on this cut. Speak True has a boomy start and a mournful lyric and introverted feel. But it’s not as self-centered at the works of Taylor Swift. Well, it couldn’t be. The harmonica tone really suits the arrangement.

The President Sang Amazing Grace is a solemn reflection on one of the American Church massacres, in Charleston. The President attended. Blackbird is The Beatles song done on the banjo. Small Brown Birds is a really downhome slightly syncopated instrumental, looking for a farming area TV soap opera to introduce. Zillionaire is a tongue-in-check about today’s business magnates’ doings and approach to labour relationships. This just HAS to be a setlist favourite. The record ends with Won’t You Come On In another warm greeting tune with full vocal refrain and borrowed Country melody.

If you’re in the market for a colourful folky set of songs with more than a little own character and with all contributors having musical empathy, this is certainly a record for you and an artist you should know about. There’s not one sound, tone or lick in this mix that could not have been heard back in the 1950’s but that’s no crime. I found it warm and entertaining and no overdone vocal twangs!

Pete Sargeant


(Thanks James S)

Zoe Mulford's new album 'Small Brown Birds' is released on Friday 19th January 2018 on Azalea City Recordings.

For more information visit her official website here: http://bit.ly/2CuBwdv

In addition, Zoe Mulford will tour the UK in 2018 with Tom Kitching at the following locations:

Zoe Mulford

Wednesday 17th January 2018 - Carrington Triangle Folk Club, Nottingham, United Kingdom

Thursday 18th January 2018 - Topic Folk Club, Bradford, United Kingdom 

Friday 19th January 2018 - Northwich Folk Club, Northwich, United Kingdom

Wednesday 24th January 2018 - Willows Folk Club, Kirkham, Lancs, United Kingdom

Friday 26th January 2018 - Music Institute Folk Club, Guildford, United Kingdom

Saturday 27th January 2018 - Shammick Acoustic, Combe Martin, United Kingdom

Sunday 28th January 2018 - Readifolk, Reading, United Kingdom

Thursday 12th April 2018 - Lymm Folk Club, Lymm, United Kingdom

Friday 20th April 2018 - Bodmin Folk Club, Bodmin, United Kingdom 

Monday 23rd April 2018 - Warwick Folk Club, Warwickshire, United Kingdom 

Monday 30th April 2018 - Midway Folk Club, Stockport, United Kingdom 

Friday 4th May 2018 - Todmorden Folk Festival, Todmorden, United Kingdom 

Wednesday 5th September 2018 - Spalding Folk Club, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

Thursday 4th October 2018 - Lyceum Folk Club, South Wales, United Kingdom