Formed in the wake of the folk music resurgence in Guernsey that was kick started by the Sark Folk Festival, Blue Mountains have made quite a formidable reputation for themselves over the last couple of years leading to the release of their debut record, Refusing To Die.
As the title suggests this isn’t the cheeriest selection of songs you might find and certainly doesn’t fall into the painfully repetitive and twee end of the folk music spectrum, instead focusing on murder ballads and some darker chapters from history.
The album starts off with the a capella duet Bright Morning Stars that lays the band bare from the off. Something I’ve noted from Blue Mountains live shows is that, while neither member may be the technically perfect musicians, this brings a more genuine feeling to their performance making the songs come to life with genuine personality, and a vocal only track highlights that superbly.
From there the record is mostly taken up by traditional songs that the duo have arranged into their own style. Highlights of these are Henry Lee and Little Sadie both of which tell dark and evocative tales that combine Mike Bonsall’s guitar and Colleen Irven’s voice in highly effective style.
As well as the duo the album features a number of guest performers who’s additions add an extra dimension to the songs in comparison to live performances. These include some great violin moments from James Dumbelton and Simon Harvey as well as mandolin and banjo from James Le Huray (who also produced the record) all of which are used very well to underline the work of the lead pair.
The centerpiece of the album for me is an original song, Born In The Fire. This tells a well-known story from Guernsey’s history about the island’s most famous historical witch burning. Written from the point of view of an unborn child just makes it an all the more harrowing tale.
While Blue Mountains don’t shy away from this, their musicality certainly makes it far more palatable while adding something back to Guernsey’s sadly all but lost local folk music movement. On top of this, arguably, its themes make it as relevant a piece of current songwriting as any other, giving it that hint of modern-day reflected in the past that the folk music I tend to enjoy the most does.
Refusing To Die captures exactly what you’d expect if you’ve seen Blue Mountains live with rough around the edges, honest performances bringing a sense of heart and soul to ‘folk’ songs, with the added bonus of deeper sounds from the guest musicians.