For most, folk is a prefix – a form of acoustic indie, a rootsy outlook on Punk Rock; a more legend-focussed or nationalist Metal. And unless you’re willing to go out and look for it, that’s how it stays –as an appendage, or the perceived preserve of beardy real ale drinkers who found Tolkein a bit fanciful. Which is odd because, firstly, folk is essentially about storytelling – whether you’re talking about English industrial heartland or great gnarly Norwegian trolls – and as if that’s not the very beating quick of music. And secondly… Well. AmmA would look a bit silly with beards.
Still, “Down Where The Lilies Blow”, the first album from AmmA, is as eclectic as their moniker – variously mother in Hindi, the supreme creator of the Dogon people, and Grandmother, the spiritual ancestor of freemen in Eddic poem Rigspula. If you like The Pogues or The Dubliners, you’re well taken care of here; while fans of Finntroll and Hedningarna might want to skip straight to ‘Swedish Blend’ for the band’s take on ‘Vargtimmen’. Original arrangements, like the beautiful picking of ‘Sneeuwvlokjes Wals’ (Snowflakes Waltz), sit by fresh looks at standards like ‘Matty Groves’ (made famous by Fairport Convention) and revenge tale ‘Willy Taylor’.
As you might have guessed, “Down Where The Lilies Blow” fits most comfortably in the vein of 20th century folk revivalists. There’s not just one, but two takes on Ewan MacColl standards, with mixed success. ‘The Ballad of Tim Evans’ is an assault of bashing piano and vicious fae-like harmony; meanwhile ‘Dirty Old Town’ takes a refreshing, wistful approach to this industrial ballad; one that gives the line “cut you down like an old dead tree” a haunting resonance, rather than the drunken punch you’d expect.
Much of AmmA’s charm lies in their willingness to explore beyond traditional renditions, such as the gorgeous hip-shaking bounce they add to ‘Willy Taylor’. Most thrilling is their ethereal side, in the daydream reverie of ‘I Met A Little Elfman Once’ – or their divine cover of ‘Sillibrand’ by mediaeval folkies Virelai, which is in serious danger of outshining the original. But it’s early to be cutting facets off this rough diamond. Their strength comes from their playful mixing of strains of Nyckelharpa and Hurdygurdy, with a breadth of knowledge right up to modern piano-based pop – and when they get it right, AmmA bring fresh chills to old bones. Ultimately it’s a question of experience, which should come with time to explore the rich bond between them. After all, as with all storytelling, it’s often not about the tale, but the way you tell it.