Album release: Answer Ballads by David Rotheray
Release date: October 14, 2013
Label: Navigator Records
Featuring: Lisa Knapp, Eliza Carthy, Kris Drever, Kathryn Williams, Gemma Hayes, John Smith, Josienne Clarke, Naomi Bedford, Mary Coughlan, Jackie Oates, Bella Hardy, Alasdair Roberts, Julie Murphy
Listen: on official website
Acclaimed songwriter David Rotheray returns with his beautifully crafted new solo album Answer Ballads, a collection of songs in which Rotheray, and his collaborators, take twelve classic pop songs and attempt to formulate an ‘answer ballad’ for each one. Taking existing fictional characters, from The Police’s Roxanne to Elton John’s Daniel, who are well-known but simultaneously unknown, Rotheray picks up the story from their perspective, using complete artistic licence.
As with his debut, The Life of Birds, Rotheray has created an album with a strong core concept. The idea for the project came in the summer of 2011, inspired partly by watching Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead, “having always wondered what Jolene, for instance, or Roxanne would have to say, given the chance, I hit upon the notion of a collection of ‘answer songs’” he explains, “however, rather than writing ‘what happened next’ scenarios, these ‘answer songs’ tend, mostly, to be psychological portraits”.
The roll call of collaborators on Answer Ballads is truly impressive, with a number of familiar names, who worked with Rotheray on The Life of Birds, returning for the new album. Former Mercury Music Award nominee Kathryn Williams co-wrote and sings on Roxanne’s Song whilst “wonderfully quirky songwriter” Alasdair Roberts takes Dino’s Song off on an atmospheric tangent, “he surprised me by eschewing the axework, and coming up with a piano-based tune vaguely reminiscent of Werewolves Of London. Radio 2 Folk Award Winner Eliza Carthy takes the reigns on Maggie’s Song “I turned up with the lyrics, and Eliza and I bashed out a tune together, eye-to-eye over a guitar. All the other songs I either wrote by myself or simply sent the lyrics to someone and asked them to write the tune.”
Although she does not sing on the album Eleanor McEvoy, who has performed and recorded with Paul Weller, Nick Cave and Joan Baez, brought ‘Lucille’s Song’ to life “I had the words but could get the tune so sent it off to Eleanor knowing she’d come up with a knockout melody in no time”. McEvoy suggested that Mary Coughlan sing the track for the album, a perfect fit with the distinctive Irish tone of Mary completely suiting the character of Lucille and the piece’s jazz piano melody.
Bella Hardy, an established folk singer who featured on several of the tracks on The Life Of Birds, and BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award finalist Jackie Oates provide the vocals to Sylvia’s Song and Mrs Avery’s Song respectively which both provide “answers” to the 1972 hit from Dr Hook “Sylvia’s Mother”.
Mojo Folk Album of the Year winner Lisa Knapp’s delicate vocals on opening track Mrs Jones’ Song paint the picture of a woman heartbroken by love lost long after the love affair from Billy Paul’s 1972 hit Me and Mrs. Jones ends. On the more up tempo track of ‘Bobby’s Song’, Naomi Bedford’s rich timbre helps illustrate the story of Bobby’s youthful adventures as she looks back on them as an entertaining but misguided phase.
Kris Drever, who has previously worked with John McCusker and Kate Rusby, is one of the few male vocalists on Answer Ballads lending his beautifully warm voice to Daniel’s Song whilst English folk guitarist John Smith brings an Americana flavour on the easy going Billy-Joe’s Song.
Marie’s Song tells how Marie’s father from the Chuck Berry song Memphis, Tennessee never made it home to her. The song was written with Josienne Clarke – one half of the award winning duo Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – whose voice Rotheray describes as “sweet, young-sounding, yet some ‘knowing’ and suites Marie perfectly.
In contrast, for Pearl’s Song Rotheray, having unwittingly written the melody whilst writing the lyrics, was looking for a singer whose voice was strong yet with a hint of vulnerability. Eleanor McEvoy suggested Irish singer Gemma Hayes whose vocals flawlessly portray Pearl’s story having been a winning singer and has left music behind “They say being somebody is hard, and being nobody is worse”.
The album concludes with Jolene’s answer to the Dolly Parton hit, arguably one of the most famous fictional characters in music. Julie Murphy’s ballad superbly complements Rotheray’s somber lyrics of a woman who has endured both male attention and female jealousy.
- Mrs Jones' Song (featuring Lisa Knapp)
- Maggie's Song (featuring Eliza Carthy)
- Daniel's Song (featuring Kris Drever)
- Roxanne's Song (featuring Kathryn Williams)
- Pearl's Song (featuring Gemma Hayes)
- Billy-Joe's Song (featuring John Smith)
- Marie's Song (featuring Josienne Clarke)
- Bobby's Song (featuring Naomi Bedford)
- Lucille's Song (featuring Mary Coughlan)
- Mrs Avery's Song (featuring Jackie Oates)
- Sylvia's Song (featuring Bella Hardy)
- Dino's Song (featuring Alasdair Roberts)
- Jolene's Song (featuring Julie Murphy)
Rotheray’s career began in the late 1980s when he formed The Beautiful South with songwriting partner Paul Heaton. Over the next two decades the band went on to release ten albums plus various compilations before finally going their separate ways in 2007. Whilst with The Beautiful South Rotheray formed his critically acclaimed acoustic side project Homespun and released three albums on his own ‘Homespun Recordings’. In 2010 Rotheray released his highly praised debut solo album The Life of Birds, a series of autumnal, rustic reflections on life collaborating with some of the UK’s finest folk singer-songwriters. Throughout his career Rotheray’s name has become synonymous with music that mixes the melancholy with dry humour to great effect.
Praise for ‘The Life of Birds
- **** - The Scotsman
- “A warm, collaborative affair tinged with the Beautiful South’s droll humour” – The Observer
- “Passionate, funny, unbearably moving and deeply addictive record” – Mojo
- “I can’t recommend this highly enough” – g3
- “Strangely English and quite old fashioned it’s definitely one to explore” – Daily Express