Darren Hayman explores rural life via Thankful Villages

Thankful VillagesThose who only know of Darren Hayman because of his work with Hefner have a lot of catching up to do. Now on his 14th solo studio album with Thankful Villages, Hayman has has an increasing interest in chronicling Britain's underbelly through his music.

It's patriotism of a sort, but it's inclusive and welcoming, rather than being exclusionary and inward looking. As previous works show, Hayman's Britain is the Britain of the forgotten and the untold: of the Diggers, William Morris, and those whose names have been lost to history.

Thankful Villages is another chapter in this ongoing story. The name of the album is taken from the “thankful villages”; those villages where every soldier returned alive from World War One. Hayman took the time to visit each of the 54 thankful villages and, focusing on village life, made a short film and piece of music for each one.

This album is a collection of the results. Or at least some of them; it's the first in a three volume trilogy and focuses on the first 18 villages that Hayman visited. It's an incredibly interesting piece of living history, focusing on rural life in a way that allows us to get at least a brief glimpse into the lives of the people living there, past and present.

Sensibly, Hayman chooses not to make every piece about the Great War. Many of the songs are about far more everyday aspects of village life, from infidelity to artworks to tales of family. This works, giving us a more full rounded picture of the people of the village then a sole focus on the war would achieve.

Perhaps the pieces that achieve this best are those where Hayman sets interviews with the village residents to music. The music is pleasant but understated, with Hayman modestly letting the interviewee take centre stage.

With Thankful Villages then, Hayman has managed to find a way to portray local history without the dryness the subject sometimes implies. So it works wonderfully as a piece of living history. But how does it stand up as a musical album? Generally, pretty well. Hayman's confidence and skill as a folk musician is becoming increasingly accomplished and that shines through. He's always been an excellent storyteller and that's something that puts him in a strong position to create a project like this.

At their weakest, some of the instrumental tracks on the album are no worse than unobtrusive. They're perfectly pleasant and glide on by naturally. They're just not quite as compelling as the other songs on the album. And if that's the worst you can say about an album, it's a pretty good argument for checking it out. Especially if you have a love for folk music or local history. And definitely if you have an interest in both, as so many do.

Overall, Thankful Villages is an album to be thankful for.

Release: 3rd June 2016, Rivertones

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