Samson & Delilah - Samson & Delilah

Simon Jay Catling 25/10/2009

Rating: 4/5

Manchester's always been known for a rich seem of acts that draw influence from traditional folk leanings, and sit contentedly side by side with some of the city's more luddite stereotypes. However, for a while it looked like the likes of Nomad Jones, Air Cav and Liam Frost were starting to trawl an increasingly lonely furrow; names that had been in circulation since 2004 with nothing coming through to compete with them. Thank goodness, then, that 2009 has seen a fresh wave of new artists cropping up in the Cups and Bay Horses of the north west. The likes of Eleanor Lou and Butler-Williams have proved, at this year's In The City, that the Mancunian penchant for applying a touch of Northern grit to long-standing acoustic roots is still very much alive and well.

Samson & Delilah are a curio though: a five-piece borne from a large musical collective known as The Waverton Collective, they understandably emit a sense of tight kinsmanship; and yet the wide scope of their music makes them difficult to place amongst their regional contemporaries. A debut album this may be, but the sheer range of outward looking influences give the impression of a group far more advanced than their fledgling status suggests. Take 'Motherhood' for instance; a German oompah stomp that additionally conveys simultaneous impressions of Parisian cobbled streets and East European country music. It's a mark of the apparent bond between the group that they can make such varying root-based strands work together.

It's the prominent closeness of the band that make this LP a success. Songs are written and sang by real-life partners Sam Lench and Anna Zweck, but although the eleven tracks here focus strongly on building layers up around their intertwining, alternating vocals, there's never the sense of there being a divide between couple and band. 'And When The Rose' sees Zweck's fragile lone vocal eventually find support from the rest of the group, whilst 'Dreams Of Yesterday' sees it lifted up on a crashing wave of pianos, accordions and hand claps. It's true front-facing effort from all concerned that aims to reach for the sort rattling crescendos so perfected by Sufjan Stevens. What stops them from doing so is the rather timid nature of production. The hazy flutter of the Lench-fronted 'Swimming Against The Tide' pushes for a headphone jangling quiet/loud juxtaposition that is sadly lost amongst the quiet nature of the album's mastering. The reasoning is understandable; the intimate nature of much of Samson & Delilah suggests the need for such dry production; but you can't help the feeling that some songs would truly fly with even a smidgeon more expanse. As it is, things occasionally drift along when a tumble into a trough or soaring peak would be much welcomed. The otherwise beautifully bleak instrumental 'Dawn' would rip rather than tug at the heartstrings if bathed in a murky hue.

Let's not detract too much from an alluring debut offering, however. Samson & Delilah are a real interest; a band who can thread a range of European roots music together and make it sound unmistakeably theirs. If dynamically they don't always reach light/dark opposites, then emotionally they do; many of the songs here deal in melancholy, of the pains of long distance love. The frequent sections of isolated vocals feel almost representative of the enveloping loneliness felt when forced away from a partner. And yet on 'Angels Said' Lench optimistically sings that "the darkness makes us stronger"; an uplifting sentiment to a wonderfully well-woven record.