Over the past couple of months, I have had The Memory Band's CD Apron Strings on heavy rotation in my office and at home because I cannot stop listening to it. They have been labeled as folktronica, which could be accurate, if one defines the neologism to mean folk or traditional music with an electronica groove.
Stephen Cracknell pulled the band together out of nothing a few years ago, releasing the first EP Calling On in 2003 and following it up with another, Fanny Adams, later that summer. Cracknell wanted to create an English folk "supergroup" with talents that spanned contemporary music. In that, he has succeeded. The band on Apron Strings includes renown vocalist Nancy Wallace, fiery fiddle player Jennymay Logan of the Elysian Quartet, violist Rob Spriggs, former Simian member Simon Lord, rocket scientist and drummer Rhys Morgan, Paul McGee, Adem Ilhan, Hot Chip member Al Doyle, and Emma Mcfarlane.
The sound of the album harkens back to English folk music of the 60s and 70s that combined old songs with modern sensibilities and instrumentation. Drawing on the talents and backgrounds of each member of this "supergroup," Cracknell has created something that sounds both old and new, much like what Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention did in their time.
Most of the songs on Apron Strings are Cracknell originals, with a few contributions from others and new arrangements of traditional tunes. One such arrangement is "I Wish I Wish" that includes a violin solo by Logan that is a total jam fest and thrills this rocker girl to the core. Another traditional tune, "Green Grows the Laurel," showcases Wallace's exquisite vocals.
"Want To Know You" is one of the tracks that saddled The Memory Band with the folktronica label. Using repetitive melodies played by the violin and viola, along with a percussion line taken from modern dance rhythms, the song has an organic electronic vibe. The instrumental "Deltic Soul" follows, and it continues the organic electronic theme a bit longer.
The true masterpiece of the album is how Cracknell is able to write fresh new songs that sound as though they have been a part of the English folk-rock paradigm for generations. Apron Strings is a welcome addition to the genre and deserves a great deal more attention from folk music listeners outside of the UK than it has received so far.