Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage : Awake

"Find your place. Love what you love. Stay awake to the world."

Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage's debut album was 'a gorgeous, mellow delight' - this follow up is stunning in its grace and flawlessness; folk music raised to a high art whilst still keeping its roots fully in the ground.

Live the duo are musically exquisite - Hannah has a dexterity and purity of voice that should place her near the folk greats on any reckoning, and Ben's delicate, sympathetic playing always offers her an immaculate frame. Faithfully recording the magic of interplay between them might be a difficult task, but again Grammy-nominated Canadian producer David Travers-Smith has made it seem effortless.

Not skipping a heartbeat Awake carries on the elegant trajectory of Before the Sun, with a growing (but still subtle) Americana influence.

The album opens with a self-penned composition - the early-morning toned, sprightly banjo of Selkie Song, written about a mythical sea woman longing for return to her spiritual home. It hits its soulful stride three songs in with a brilliant, plaintive cover of Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key.

Awake pivots midway on three tracks. The first is another original, 7, which is all atmospheric instrumentation and muted, melancholic tone. 7 is followed by a breezy, buoyant and lilting version of traditional song Reynardine, that bleeds into a combined instrumental / recorded city soundscape. In contrast to both a rolling, nostalgic cowboy song, Santa Fe Trail, is then sung by Ben, backed by a rousing ensemble choir.

The best is saved for last - with two long moments of musical perfection. Peter Seeger's One Grain of Sand is made potently elegiac by Hannah's vocal and its minimal guitar backing. Reaching, a love-song written by Hannah, closes the album - it is simple, moving and beautiful.

The four parts the duo usually have at their disposal, when poised around one antique microphone on stage, are augmented often in the recordings. Adding an understated depth of instrumentation to Hannah's mountain dulcimer and Ben's dobro, from the UK Jon Thorn offers fluid double bass, Even Carson percussion and Jess Morgan, Catriona Gilmore and James Roberts vocals. From the US, Burke Carroll sketches always-evocative pedal steel and producer David Travers-Smith also guests on horns and organ. It is all very restrained though, accent is added only where needed to emphasise, underpin or colour the core sound.

The songs on Awake flow by, full of deft touches and strikingly expressed, soft-hued emotion. You can feel the love and craft in every moment. As notes are drawn out and sustained, the music becomes meditative - absorbing you completely and drawing out any stress as if it had been prescribed for the purpose. In that power it is a defiantly human work.

It has been a fortuitous journey so far, a few steps from a chance meeting in a Cambridge folk club to musical enchantment. As if to revere that luck Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage have now released a definitively sublime album.


HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE I Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key