Samson & Delilah – s/t

Samson & Delilah - self-titled

Samson & Delilah - self-titled

As the noughties seem to be evaporating somewhat prematurely, so does the enthusiasm for the folk-rock revival that characterised the dawn of the decade.  Whilst wormholes back to late-‘60s/early-‘70s folk-centric revivalism – opened on respective sides of the Atlantic by Devendra Banhart and James Yorkston – may never close fully, the opportunities to pull out some fresh inspiration for such halcyon days seems to be narrowing.  Even the bastion of nouveau-folk fanaticism, The Green Man Festival, has loosened its remit to enrol those not wholly fixated on Pentangle, Unhalfbricking/Liege & Leif-era Fairport Convention, The Wicker Man soundtrack and all things pastorally nostalgic.  Hence, it’s harder for those still in thrall to such influences to sound particularly radical, especially to these saturated-lobes.  So, when this first LP offering from the Manchester-based Samson & Delilah (AKA Sam Lench and Anna Zweck) arrived in a sleeve – gorgeous as it maybe – that suggested yet another acid-folk flashback, expectations weren’t especially high.  Thankfully though, with repeated patience-rewarding spins these weary ears were gently soothed into submission.

Part of the twosome’s charm lies in a beguiling subtly which at the outset can be misheard as reticent shyness.  Few albums released in a time where typical MP3-focussed mastering has reached ridiculous sound-bending levels require as much diligent attention-giving as this introductory Samson & Delilah long-player, to pick out all the hidden detail.  In effect, Lench and Zweck have made their seemingly passive presence demand almost aggressive concentration.  Once inside this auditory head-space however, then the record peels back layer-upon-layer of rich features.  Airing the opulent opening “Crystallised Sand” the first time suggests merely a more Anglicised Espers, but by the second spin it feels like a crescendo-building Eastern European gypsy lament.  Initially, the ensuing “Swimming Against The Tide” sounds like a run-of-the-mill manly acoustic ballad but it soon reveals itself as a carnivalesque Incredible String Band-like reverie, through florid flutes and dense percussive meshes.  The pattern of second or third play perspectives repeats itself throughout the album; with the miniature-then-widescreen mandolin-drenched beauty of “And When the Rose” and the woozy-to-drunken Weimar Republic waltzing of “Motherbird” being other glimmering examples

Some of the LP’s less demonstrative pieces may offer less steadily unravelling secrets but still conceal some slow-to-absorb splashes of enchantment.  Thus, the clockwork-imitating instrumental interlude of “Dusk” puts a more rustic slant on Glen Johnson’s Textile Ranch side-project wares and the equally wordless late-night piano haunting of “Dawn” recalls the more melancholic edge of Howe Gelb’s Lull, Ogle and Spun Some Piano trilogy.  Elsewhere, the wintry wispiness “Dreams Of Yesterday” and the largely a capella “Starlight In Your Afternoon” also highlight that Zweck’s crystalline yet comfortingly untamed tones, have the strong potential to follow unpretentiously in the footsteps of the Anne Briggs, Sandy Denny and Vashti Bunyan lineage.  Whilst Lench’s voice is less alluring, his impassioned pipes do provide an earthly counterbalance to Zweck’s ethereal vocals, to prevent proceedings floating-off into predictable patchouli-scented retro rurality.

Although romantically-bound in their own bubble, Sam Lench and Anna Zweck have fashioned an open-ended affair here that is inviting, inclusive and intimate.  The fact that this dreamy debut also keeps awake a musical spirit that seemed destined for another stint of hibernation is merely a happy consequence of a collection which glows strongly and imaginatively on its own terms.

Little Red Rabbit Records

Listen to “And When the Rose”