Forbidden Joe: Oh, what a queer sensation . . . (FJ)

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Forbidden Joe: The Bulgine Run
Forbidden Joe: Oh, what a queer sensation . . . (FJ)

This three-piece from Auckland certainly arrive on this five-track EP with a weight of great expectation on their shoulders: singer Frances Dickinson has been hailed by someone on 95bFM as an "up and coming folk superstar" (it would be interesting to have our first) and they -- Dickinson, Emily Giles and Alex Borwick -- are billed as "the wicked new folk sound".

Time will tell about Dickinson's superstar status -- but I don't hear a new folk sound here at all, rather an intelligent and enticing melange of many old styles which includes Celtic reels, Anglofolk and the now quite common nods to gypsy folk and cabaret (the latter having been around since Tom Waits hauled it close to the mainstream some two decades back).

So let's remove all the forgivable hype and look at what Forbidden Joe do -- and do very well.

Aside from Dickinson's original Point Me Home, they take their emotionally direct style to a sea shanty, some Irish and English folk, and a short medley of European folk dances. With the sparing deployment of banjo, trombone, cello, concertina and dunbeg (dunno, never heard of it) they pull off a rare treat: the music can at times be funky, at others emotionally wrenching and ineffably sad, then in another moment cheerful and quirky.

That is quite some stretch but here it never feels forced and all part of a similar consciousness guiding them.

And on two songs in particular -- the traditional False False and Point Me Home -- you can hear why people are so taken with them: in the former they are firmly within the lineage of those pure English voices (June Tabor, Sandy Denny etc), and on the latter (with an oceanic surge from trombone guiding it from the Salvation Army Hall to the docks where square riggers stand) Dickinson's lyrics create a singular world that connects to the European colonisation of this land and how we find our way home when far away . . . "trusty needle take me back the way I came . . ."

Don McGlashan once observed that a feature of New Zealand music -- even some Flying Nun bands -- was a nautical quality, a thought that has made more and more sense to me as time has gone on.

We are surrounded by water and tend to gravitate to it -- and in that Forbidden Joe have made an intuitive connection through songs which suggest the sea and the longing for open water. And in this one lyric by Dickinson here (raised in coastal England who played pubs in Whitby interestingly enough) you sense she has that sensibility in her soul.

Let us hope that on a full length album she follows her lyrical instincts because as a writer, just on this one showing, she seems to be a rare one.



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