JOSIENNE CLARKE AND BEN WALKER
Fire & Fortune
Navigator Records 082
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New releases fall into categories such as old friends, familiar voices, and promising discoveries. But few are as delicious as those that make us exclaim, “Who is that?” The London-based duo Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker induce the latter reaction. Fire & Fortune is their third release and if it gets half the play it deserves, Clarke and Walker will be the hottest duo around. (Fortune is always problematic in folk music!) Clarke’s voice is the sort that only comes around a few times in a generation: crystalline clear, supple, and gorgeous. She lists Sandy Denny, Linda Thompson, and June Tabor among her influences and, for once, it’s no stretch to say that the new kid is equal to her mentors. Half of the album’s 12 tracks are originals, many of them evocative of Denny’s trad-based contemporary offerings. “After Me,” for instance, is bell-like in tone and fragile in feel, yet contains soaring register shifts that let you know Clarke’s nobody’s china doll. When Clarke and Walker draw from the public domain, though, they tend to evoke Lorena McKennitt and the John Renbourn Group, if we imagine stripped-down ensembles. Clarke’s take on “The Seasons” is especially McKennit-like in its mix of magic, mystery, and drama, and her voice is a dead ringer for Jacqui McShee’s on “Green Grow the Laurels.” Guest musicians add tasteful contributions throughout but it’s always Ben Walker’s fretwork that’s the foundation from which Clarke’s voice leaps. Pay attention, folks, a coronation is in order. --Rob Weir
Think I exaggerate Clarke's voice? Check her out. watch her quiet a restive crowd.