Rob St. John -‘Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey’/’Shallow Grey.’ (Song, By Toad Records)
This is his first release since that debut album (though he also performs as part of eagleowl, who are about to drop their utterly brilliant debut on Fence any day now). It’s two rather fine folk songs, both of them now over a hundred years old, on one slab of 7″ vinyl, and they are utterly beautiful. ‘Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey’ is a Lancastrian song originally sung to Cecil Sharp (a man to whom English folk music owes more than possibly be imagined) in 1905. It’s described as being ‘a song of the Industrial Revolution: crumbling mill towns butting up against moorland and trees growing out of chimneys.’ Meanwhile, the b-side (or is that AA? It’s hard to know in the digital age, and I may be the only person left who still cares about such things), ‘Shallow Grey’ is a West Indian sea shanty collected by H.E. Piggott and Percy Grainger from the singing of John Perring in Dartmouth, Devon in 1908. Whether these songs are a century plus old or not, even at face value the package is a thing of beauty.
Limited to 250 copies (I have Rob St. John singles limited to 100!) track it down and check it out. You may not hear something so beautiful and heartbreaking this year.