The lilting harmonics of acoustic instrumentation have long been associated with pastoral landscapes and verdant nature, to the point where it’s become little more than a lazy cliché to draw such comparisons in regards to the vast majority of modern folk releases – especially given that few such records really have much at all to do with the green, rolling hills and gnarled old trees they’re so often associated with. ‘A Hymn For Ancient Land’ is different, however – Jim Ghedi is a folk artist in a truer sense than many tagged as such from recent years. Although many of the often fully instrumental compositions on his sophomore effort are originals, Ghedi’s attitude is one with a direct lineage to folk music, both traditional and (slightly) more contemporary. Genre linchpin Bert Jansch a definite point of reference, particularly his sublime 1978 album ‘Avocet’ and nature, too, is evidently a pivotal source of inspiration for Ghedi – as the cover art, title and autumnal, sweeping arrangements all suggest.
As lovely as all that is, folk is a busy genre in 2018 and what sets Ghedi apart from the crowd is not his sources of inspiration or his excellent fingerstyle guitar work but rather his individualistic, vivid approach to arrangement and composition. Much of ‘A Hymn For Ancient Land’ is instrumental and with no vocal melodies or need for a concrete hook to hold him back, Ghedi allows his songs to flow organically, buffeted by the wind like the leaves from the trees that inspire him so. The varied, naturalistic instrumentation of 7 minute album opener ‘Home For Moss Valley’ sets the palette for the rest of the album. Ghedi’s guitar is front and centre here, no doubt, but not at the cost of other instrumentation. String lines throughout the album are, by turns, delicate and gusty; the nuanced, deft plucking of the harp on ‘Cwm Elan’ and the rich, deep drone of ‘Banks Of Mulroy Bay’ all doing their part to make ‘A Hymn For Ancient Land’ one of the most sonically varied folk records of the past couple of years.
The arrangements not only keep proceedings fresh but add a scarce depth to the record; one that nurtures and encourages repeat play-throughs. The sophistication of the adornments bring to mind the idiosyncratic folk of Cian Nugent, particularly his 2013 record ‘Born With Caul’ – and Nugent isn’t the only modern reference point, either. Although, as a guitarist, Ghedi stands on his own terms – boasting a fluent, mature style – the propulsive, forceful picking of ‘Bramley Moor’ nods to the work of fellow fingerstyle explorer Daniel Bachman. Whilst those so inclined can certainly pick out influence (both new and old) on the album, more important is the fact that Ghedi articulates the long tradition of folk music in a fresh way. His approach to arrangement is intuitive and original and the musicianship from all involved is excellent. When Ghedi does sing – as on the moody ‘Phoenix Works’ and the album’s moving, emotional centre piece ‘Banks Of Mulroy Bay’, it’s to impressive effect. He has the sort of characterful, plaintive voice that works so well in the often heart-broken ballads of folk music and his interpretation of the latter song is both experimental and richly resonant.
Impressively, ‘A Hymn For Ancient Land’ succeeds both as a semi-traditional folk record and as one that uses the genre’s roots only as a starting point. It’s a well crafted, impactful album that impresses on multiple levels and confirms Ghedi as one of the UK’s most intriguing contemporary folk artists.