Rachael McShane & The Cartographers: When All Is Still

Magnificent Transgression

Listening Post 179. Sex, death and rebellion are the stuff of tavern gossip and folk music, and they reach their fullest resonance when delivered with a healthy dose of irreverence. This is the payload of When All Is Still, a rollicking album of comedy and calamity, mischief and mayhem, by Rachael McShane and her band. Yorkshire-born and Newcastle-based, McShane is a singer-composer-musician and veteran of the British folk group Bellowhead. Led by her dulcet, vivacious voice, she and new bandmates Matthew Ord (guitar, vocals) and Julian Sutton (melodeon), plus a world-class roster of guest musicians, rework traditional songs—starring characters dashing, daring and dastardly—with sparkling arrangements. In her album notes, McShane is a tad sheepish about the inclusion of a straightforward love song, but Ploughman Lads, in which she declares a preference for farm workers over other country types, is an irresistible blend of insouciance and pastoral pageantry (video 1). A cheeky romp, The Molecatcher features a cuckold who busts his transgressing wife in flagrante but still comes up short (video 2). Sylvie, determined to know if her lover is faithful and brave, disguises herself—naturally—as a highwayman and robs him (video 3). The album reaches a Gilbert & Sullivan-worthy crescendo of exaggerated (and magnificent) pomp-with-frivolity in Green Broom, the saga of a lazy, lucky youth (video 4). So much more: Cropper Lads, a Luddite tribute to cloth cutters who lost livelihoods to technology, also provides the album title—as workers take “hatchet, pike and gun” to their factory’s job-killing machinery at night, “when all is still.” On the darker side, Two Sisters is a story of sibling rivalry (homicidal kind); while the starry-eyed Lady Isabel turns the tables on a serial killer. More than enough here for a night in the tavern or an extraordinary collection destined for the record book. (Topic Records)

 

Ploughman Lads
Down yonder glen there’s a ploughman lad/And some summer day he’ll be all my own

Singing laddie-I, and sing laddie-O/Ploughman lads are all the go.

I’ll love his face and I’ll love his skin/Love the very cart he harrows in
Singing laddie-I, and sing laddie-O/Ploughman lads are all the go.

Down yonder glen, could’ve gotten a miller/But all of his dust would have made us choke
Singing laddie-I, and sing laddie-O/Ploughman lads are all the go.

Down yonder glen, could’ve gotten a merchant/But all of his goods weren’t worth a groat
Singing laddie-I, and sing laddie-O/Ploughman lads are all the go.

I see him coming down from the town/With all of his ribbons all a-hanging down
Singing laddie-I, and sing laddie-O/Ploughman lads are all the go.

 

The Molecatcher
In old Tawney Common there’s a pub and a cow/And there lives a molecatcher and I’ll tell you how
Well, he goes a-molecatching from morning till night/While the jolly young farmer goes playing with his wife

Singing, o-ho-ho all day and all night/Singing, o-ho-ho till the moon it shone bright.

Oh the molecatcher jealous of the very same thing/So he hid in the alehouse and watched him come in
And when that young farmer jumped over the stile/Well, it caused the molecatcher to laugh and to smile.

He knocked at the door and this he did say“/Oh where is your husband? Good woman, I pray”
“Well, he’s gone a-molecatching so you need not fear”/But little did she think the molecatcher was near.

Singing, o-ho-ho all day and all night/Singing, o-ho-ho till the moon it shone bright.

She went upstairs and he followed the sign/But the molecatcher followed them closely behind
And when they got into the middle of their sport/Well, the molecatcher grabbed him quite fast by his coat.

Singing, o-ho-ho all day and all night/Singing, o-ho-ho till the moon it shone bright.

He clapped his hands and he laughed at the sight/Saying, “Here’s the best mole that I’ve caught in my life
And I’ll make you pay well for ploughing my ground/And the money it shall be no less than ten pound”

“Very well,” said the farmer, “the money I don’t mind/For it only works out about tuppence a time”
So come all you young farmers and mind where you’re at/Don’t you ever get caught in a molecatcher’s trap

Singing, o-ho-ho all day and all night/Singing, o-ho-ho till the moon it shone bright.

 

Sylvie
Young Sylvie on one summer’s day/She dressed herself in man’s array
With a sword and pistol all by her side/To meet her true love, to meet her true love, away did ride

As she was riding o’er the plain/She met her true love and bid him stand
“Your gold and silver, kind sir,” she said/“Or else this moment, or else this moment, I’ll shoot you dead”

And when she’d robbed him of all his store/She said, “Kind sir, there’s one thing more
A golden ring that I see you have/Oh hand it over, oh hand it over
And your life I’ll spare”

“That ring,” he said, “my true love gave/My life I’ll lose, but the ring I’ll save”
Being tender-hearted just like a dove/She rode away, she rode away, from her own true love.

Next morning in the garden green/Just like true lovers they were seen
He spied his watch hanging by her clothes/It made him blush then, it made him blush just like any rose

“Why do you blush, you foolish thing/I thought to have that golden ring
It was I who robbed you all on that plain/So here’s your gold watch, so here’s your gold and your watch and chain”

“I only did it for to know/Whether you were a man or no
For if you did give me that ring,” she said/“I’d have called the traitor, I’d have called the traitor and shot you dead”

 

Green Broom
There was an old man and he lived in the woods/His trade was the cutting down broom, green broom
He had a son and his name it was John/And he laid in bed until noon, bright noon
Laid in his bed until noon.

So the old man he rose and up to his son goes/And he swore he’d set fire to his room, his room
If he would not arise and unbutton his eyes/And away to the woods to bring broom, green broom
Away to the woods to bring broom

So Johnny did rise and did sharpen his knives/And he went to the woods cutting broom, green broom
To market and fair and he cried everywhere/“Oh, fair maids do you want any broom, green broom
Maids do you want any broom?”

The lady sat up at her window so high/She heard Johnny crying, “Green broom, green broom!”
She ran for her maid and unto her she said/“Oh, go fetch me that lad that cries broom, green broom
Fetch me that lad that cries broom”

So Johnny went into this lady’s fine house/And he entered this lady’s fine room, her room
“Oh Johnny” she said, “Will you come to bed?/Will you marry a lady in bloom, full bloom?
Marry a lady in bloom?”

John gave his consent, and to church they both went/He married this lady in bloom, full bloom
He blessed the day that he traveled that way/And they stay in their bed until noon, bright Noon
Stay in their bed until Noon

 

 


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