Album Review / Sam Sweeney: Unearth Repeat

Wood. Living, rough, hewn, shaped into houses, burned for warmth we need.

People and their stories; villages and towns and other places they live in. People whose language I don’t always speak but we understand each other anyway.

Those are the feelings and mental images I get from British fiddler Sam Sweeney’s new album Unearth Repeat.

It’s all instrumental, sits neatly in the loose genre of contemporary folk and is performed by a small, intimate band. The dominant instrumentation is fiddle – acoustic guitar – electric guitar – bass. There’s some keyboards but mostly in the background.

So, nothing out of the ordinary, right? And yet, the expressiveness and, yes, sheer depth and focus of this music are so vast, I swear there are moments I’m just happy to be alive to hear this. And how the tunes bring all those images to me…

I know that sounds like crazed hyperbole. I assure it’s not.

But to take this more calmly… This is my first encounter with master Sweeney, and after hearing the album, I went back and checked out his previous solo and duo efforts. The genre is about the same, but something has happened after the previous release, The Unfinished Violin, a most excellent album as well, but maybe just that little bit more polite and perhaps conventional.

On Unearth Repeat, Sweeney’s playing has a rougher edge than on …Violin, with the fiddle sounding ”breathy” in the most delicious way, reminding me at times of Duncan Chisholm’s superbly humane and warm touch – coming from me, that’s the highest compliment to a fiddler.

And the band is so together here: the slow tunes glow gently like embers after the fire is gone, the faster ones pulse like a a great big heart. When I listen to this, I don’t need to stop what I’m doing; the music simply invites me to breathe and slow down and listen.

What makes the album special for me is the strange sense of I mentioned in the beginning, of people and their stories and the places where they live. Each tune has its own chararcter and seems to come from a specific place: some from England, some from Scotland, some from the Nordic region – I love it how familiar Winter 350 sounds to me – and some from a place that has no name but feels like home. These tunes need no lyrics, they tell their tales through music alone.

I think I better stop here before I go too far into Fandomland. Just three things before I sign off:

1) My favorite tunes are all of them but most of all the near-cinematic Dark Arches, the gently bouncing The Old Wagon Way, the oh-so-Nordic Winter 350 and the final track, Red, that closes the proceedings with such elegance and leaves the very last notes hanging in the air, promising for more later (I hope!)

2) Do listen with a good pair of headphones or a high quality sound system. The recording itself, with Andy Bell’s production, is so full and rich, you’ll want to get the most out of it. And take time to immerse.

3) Go purchase:

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