The Rachel Hamer Band met in 2011 while doing the Newcastle University Folk Degree. Since then, they have gained an audience in folk clubs across the country and have performed at some well-known festivals such as Towersy, Berverly, Chippenham, and Whitby.
Their latest album, Hard Ground has distinct traditional sounds, with guitar and flute accompanying Rachel Hamer’s soft voice. The album explores the various lives that Rachel has come across, but also gives an insight into the band’s relationship with the North East of Britain, showing her heritage. While some songs are reinterpreted traditional songs and others are self-penned, the album really sticks to a traditional folk style.
The first song, 'Blue Sunset' is a catchy opener - energetic but not overly so. The guitar gives the song its rhythm using very simple chords with rhythmic strumming, while the flute adds a sense of depth to the song, especially during the instrumental break. It uses a very folky style in the way that it has no chorus, but repeats the last lines of the verses. It’s poetic lyrics discuss the famous landscape of Teeside and the effect of the industry on the countryside.
'West Virginia' has a dark opening which gets lighter with the introduction of the guitar. Rachel’s voice really compliments this song. It picks up half way through in a really interesting way, with male backing vocals strengthening the song. It explores disasters such as those that commonly plagued the mining trade. 'What a Voice' is a beautiful melody sung purely acoustically, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Rachel Hamer’s voice really expresses the nature of this song; written by Jeannie Robertson, the song is from a maid’s point of view who sings of the long-awaited birth of her baby. 'Bevan Boys', written by Rachel Hamer, was inspired by the stories she had been told by a family friend of the men he had met during the Second World War. It’s a sweet song about the soldiers of the war: “Forgotten Heroes Fathoms Deep”.
The beginning of 'Alice White' changes the mood, though it’s tempo is similar to the previous song. The song discusses the difficulty women had keeping themselves and their families alive in difficult times. The anger and pain in the lyrics can really be heard in Rachel’s voice in this song. I really love the harmonies between the violin and flute in this song - it really adds to the song’s melancholy.
After only seconds of listening, 'Gypsie Laddie' is easily my favourite on the album. It’s a fun and pretty rendition of the famous folk story of a wealthy lady who follows a gypsy away from her riches and into the fields. There are many renditions; this song is a piecing together of the many versions. Some versions end with the lady regretting her decision, however this version ends with the lady defiantly refusing her old luxury and riches.
The album captures a very distinct style due to Rachel Hamer’s distinctive and charming voice. The style reminds of the music of Kate Rusby and Kim Lowings and the Greenwood - both great sounds to aspire to! I’d really recommend giving this album a listen.