March 1, 2014, marked the release of Jesse Ferguson’s, the Bard of Cornwall’s, 4th release “The Butcher Boy.” An album that does a wonderful job of bringing Jesse back to his roots and allowing him to truly shine as he explores and shows us the world of traditional folk music from Ireland, Scotland, England and America.
Like his other albums, Jesse plays all of the instruments and captures all of the vocal tracks himself. The instruments include: acoustic guitar, mandolin, bodhran (frame drum), Jew’s harp, glockenspiel, fife, tambourine, sandpaper block, and, yes, even the frying pan. In the end, he creates a superb, full sound that is filled with slight nuances that continue to unfold with each new listen. Moreover, throughout the album it is obvious that Jesse wants the stories these songs tell to be the focal point because at no point do the arrangements detract or distract our attention from the story that is being told. Instead each arrangement serves to assist in the telling.
The title for this album comes from his first track and is an American folk song based off an older English ballad. It tells the story of a young girl who commits suicide after being betrayed by her love. In Ferguson’s version of The Butcher Boy, he arranges it in such a way that you can’t help but feel the pain the young girl endures from the loss of her love. The mandolin tremolo pulls out a bit of the sadness in between the verses while the sandpaper block creates this steady beat as if time just keeps marching on. In the last verse, the arrangement is altered in such a way to put even more focus on the young girl’s final haunting words that are emphasized by the mandolin and glockenspiel.
Likewise, another breathtaking song is Jesse’s arrangement of Byron’s haunting love poem She Walks in Beauty. The poem was first penned in 1814 and while there is some debate as to whom it was penned for the fact that this woman captured Lord Byron’s attention through her beauty and elegance is apparent. Jesse picks out the chords for this song in perfect time while the fife lightly cuts in to punctuate only certain lines of the verses.
However, as a counterpoint he also includes songs like The Amsterdam Maid, a wonderful sea shanty that is played out on the bodhran. While very upbeat and lively it is about a sailor who is ruined because of his ‘roaming.’ Striking very different chord than the last two.
All in all, this album is quite full of a variety of well-orchestrated songs. From the classic Irish and British realm like The Irish Rover, My Love is like a Red, Red Rose, and the classic anit-recruiting song Arthur Mc Bride to the strictly American Folk song The Ballad of Jesse James. Other songs on the album are Mary and the Soldier, The Blackleg Miner, Byker Hill and the instrumental Planxty Fanny Power.
I would certainly go and get this album. I have been listening to it repeatedly now for the last several weeks and don’t see taking it out of my regular rotation any time soon.
Stephen Mc Sweeney is a High School English/Drama teacher. Besides writing for the Celtic Music Magazine, he enjoys acting, writing and playing Celtic music. He can be seen as one of the members of the band Terrible Musicians, where he plays percussion and mandolin.