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SunSign Records CD2017

British folk-rock of the late 60s and early 70s left a lasting mark on music in California and other parts of America. While providing a touring circuit for visiting bands like Fairport Convention, Pentangle and Steeleye Span, as well as The Incredible String Band, it also spawned a semi-revolutionary scene of its own. Although the more successful exponents caught the tail end of the late 60s US folk-rock style, many singular exponents and aficionados created a music that has its base in English traditions and Celtic nuances and American folk-rock styles. Among those singular exponents is Jennifer Cutting, now based in Washington D.C. but who spent her Erasmus period at King’s College, University of London. Songwriter, arranger, melodeon and keyboard player, collector and academic, Jennifer’s Ocean Orchestra echoes her work with the Anglo American folk rock band, The New St. George, and their sole album, 1994’s High Tea, highlighted her British folk-rock credentials.

Now, some 14 years later, comes Waves, her third album with current group The Ocean Orchestra. The links with The New St. George here lie in the fact that much of the material included on Waves was rehearsed for an album, Johnny Has Gone Electric, which was never released. Revisiting the demos, re-recording the core tracks and adding some new material makes for an album that’s contemporary in a cosmopolitan folk-rock vein and yet harks back to the classic early days for its inspiration. Indeed, the link with UK folk-rock goes to ex-Albion Band/Dando Shaft singer Polly Bolton, featuring on Lark In The Clear Air with multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockly in tow. Lisa Moscatiello (from The New St. George and Whirligig) handles the majority of the vocals on Waves, including Johnny Has Gone Electric written in honour of A.L. Lloyd seeing Bob Dylan go electric at Newport Folk Festival in 1966. Steve Winick plunders several versions of Wheel Of Fortune (first heard from Cilla Fisher and Artie Trezise) for his lyrics. Several tunes from English and Scottish circles and original compositions colour the palate. This is a fully fledged folk-rock effort; American in execution but English in inspiration and influence. Waves succeeds in being both a homage to British folk-rock and in providing plentiful aural stimulation on its own terms.

John O’Regan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 121 of The Living Tradition magazine.