Hannah James & Sam Sweeney

State and Ancientry Reviews

"A glorious celebration of some of England's finest and lesser known tunes and songs played with real commitment and understanding. A must!"

Verity Sharp, BBC Radio 3, Late Junction

Sweeney may be familiar as a member of that freewheeling folk band Bellowhead, but his partnership with the accordionist and singer Hannah James brings out his more intimate side. From the hypnotic opener, a Purcell hornpipe, their collaboration works its way through an atmospheric series of traditional songs and instrumentals. Sweeney switches between fiddle, viola, nyckelharpa and bagpipes, while the undemonstrative James adds ultra-discreet foot percussion. She brings a touch of girlish mischief to The Farmer’s Cursed Wife, a tale of a scold who is too much even for the devil himself. Light a log fire and let the musicians do the rest.

Clive Davis
The Sunday Times 1/4/12

The second album from this talented and exciting duo. It is good to see them continuing their partnership as there is real chemistry in their musicianship, in the fickle world of folk collaboration duos and groups form, merge and split with depressing regularity, so it is good to see one of the best ones getting even better.
It's amazing that they have found the time to fit this in, with Hannah involved with the Demon barbers and her trio Lady Maisery and Sam being in Bellowhead, the Remnant Kings and the Fay Hield Trio. But they have found odd moments together to follow up their first album Catchers and Glee. Sam and Hannah are both deceptively modest about their skills, they have expression and fluidity in their playing that many would envy, their strongest skill is in breathing life into these tunes and arrangements. Indeed that skill in Hannah was recently recognised by the Levellers when they got her to play accordion on their new album. You can read their track by track description of State and Ancientry in their guest editor section HERE. State and Ancientry is a good title, their music possesses a stateliness that eschews unnecessary 'contemporary' reworking, whilst their chosen tunes have the   lustre and power of age. I really hope they produce many albums together, as I believe they will be looked back upon as being at the forefront of English Traditional music. Iain Hazlewood, Spiral Earth

Superb musicianship and Hannah James's clear, ringing voice mark out this duo's new album. It's a richly satisfying tour through traditional English songs and dance tunes. A lovely version of "On Yonder Hill There Sits A Hare" is just one of the stand-out tracks on a beautifully performed record.

Tim Cumming, The Independent

"The word blockbuster is much misused - particularly as the original was a second world war bomb - but how else to describe this album?

Hannah and Sam were both members of the award-winning four-piece band Kerfuffle, who for nine years spun a web of youthful tradition around the English folk scene, and are sorely missed.

Perhaps most notably in their varied careers, Hannah joined The Demon Barbers and formed Lady Maisery along with Rowan Rheingans and Hazel Askew, while Sam became a member of the hugely successful Bellowhead and has toured with Jon Boden and Fay Hield.

But they never said goodbye. Hannah and Sam gave us their first album Catches and Glees almost before Kerfuffle had ceased to be. It was a great success in the folk world, and their follow-up looks set to surpass it. State and Ancientry ls a true duet. Its title ls a quote from Shakespeare on the subject of love and dance, and the music follows this through beautifully.

Having seen Hannah entertain 25,000 people at Cropredy with a solo clog dance, perhaps it isn't so hard to accept that she could put the sound of clog- dancing on disc, but it is brave, nonetheless. She also plays accordion and sings, while Sam plays fiddle, viola, nyckelharpa, Hardanger fiddle and English bagpipes.

The music is a splendid mix, leaning heavily on the works of John Playford, Cecil Sharp, and Henry Purcell. There are folk standards such as William Taylor and The Golden Glove, plus a generous nod to the world of morris. There are also a couple of self-penned items, but Hannah and Sam are so immersed in the tradition it is virtually impossible to tell them from the rest.

The sound is universally clear and pure, while the words are often bawdy, and the whole is imbued with a strength and confidence that has the pair marked out as a serious presence in the nation's musical heritage. Here's to their next album."

Frank Chester, Folk Monthly

"An absolutely cracking follow up! I think they're amazing, not just as young players but as players of any age. Brilliant musicians."

Mike Harding, BBC Radio 2

"State & Ancientry is the second album from Hannah James & Sam Sweeney, and shows a growing confidence and mastery from two young but seasoned performers.

The opening two tracks are both instrumental tunes and, whilst they hail from Playford’s Dancing Master, they have an unusual and vibrant sound, with Parson Upon Dorothy in particular feeling a bit more Scandinavian in flavour.

The album is a balanced mix of tunes and songs, with some gorgeous versions of familiar tales. William Taylor has a sense of creeping foreboding, and a wonderful repeated twirly riff. In contrast, The Golden Glove has a more lilting tune that stays in the head to be hummed throughout the day, and sustains the six minutes of the track.

There Was an Old Lady Lived in the West is a stunning unaccompanied rendition by Hannah, and quite possibly the highlight of the album. She is in full control of her voice, and gives the song a slight jazzy swing which works so well to keep attention and enjoyment at the maximum. The love of the heroine shines through in Hannah’s voice - a true narration.

In contrast The Farmer’s Cursed Wife is a very silly song in the tradition of songs about terrible wives. It is an absolute giggle containing some great lines, and a nonsense refrain of “down a diddle a day”. But, whilst the subject matter is not serious, there is no slackening of the musical performance.

Hannah and Sam have delivered an accomplished and enjoyable album, which shows them expanding their range and confidence as a duo. The album is less immediately accessible to the casual listener than their first release, but well worth repeated listening to gain a fuller appreciation."

Liz Osman, Bright Young Folk

In 2008, accordeonist/singer Hannah and fiddle player Sam, originally members of crack four-piece Kerfuffle, teamed up as a duo in order to explore predominantly English (and mostly traditional) songs and tunes. Their debut recording, Catches And Glees, was released in 2009, since when Sam's been on the road with Bellowhead and Fay Hield while Hannah's graced the ranks of Maddy Prior's Trio and the acclaimed Lady Maisery. Both Hannah and Sam's wealth of experience of working with other musicians clearly informs their collaborative approach to the presentation of their chosen material, while still leaving room for the generous showcasing of their individual talents.

State And Ancientry marks a significant advance on its predecessor in that the musicians now have an even greater awareness of the possibilities of contrast and balance. The new CD is informed by a distinct and deliberate shift in approach: Sam describes this as the duo having "really embraced the two-piece lineup and tried to expand from there, rather than trying to compress an ensemble sound into just the two of us".

The disc's proportion of instrumental sets to vocal items (five against six) in the end feels about right. Hannah once again proves herself a very capable interpreter of song, for although hers is still very much a ‘young’ voice, her solid and sure technique in the main allows her to counter any potential charge of mismatch with the mature stance of a song's protagonist. Particularly impressive this time round are the a cappella There Was A Lady Lived In The West (from the singing of Robert Cinnamond) and On Yonder Hill There SitsA Hare (from the repertoire of Geordie Hannah), which here sports a spare yet wonderfully atmospheric hardanger accompaniment and is rounded off with a sparkling lilted treatment of Hunting The Hare.

The tune sets make a virtue of thoughtful and sensitive layering of simple textures which attractively exploit the tonal possibilities of the instruments used (which include nyckelharpa, English bagpipes and viola in addition to fiddle and piano accordeon), while the sources range from morris (How Do You Do?), Vickers and Playford through to a pair of Hannah's own compositions and one of Sam's, all of which dovetail just fine with their companions. It's hard to find fault with this uplifting disc, which throughout its 49 minutes retains that essential spring in its step and zestful spirit.

David Kidman, fRoots