If you happen to have plugged into the UK’s DIY folk scene then you may well be familiar with Yorkshire native Helen Chambers. A split with Chuck Ragan and stints on tour with label mate Sam Russo, have all helped her stand out in a crowded scene. The last few years has seen Chambers playing bars and backrooms, the toilet circuit and anywhere that will have her really. All this hard graft hasn’t been in vain as the release of her debut album Penny Arcade shows. It’s a masterful record that combines elements of traditional folk music, country twang and the best of Americana storytelling.
Penny Arcade, released by the fine folks at Specialist Subject Records, is an album made with a lot of care. Opening with the rousing ‘Little Demons’, Chambers’ gentle quiver creates a vulnerability that is touching to hear. Penny Arcade shifts comfortably through the spectrum of folk and its assorted genres. While it is clear that Chambers’ lyrics are influenced by her surroundings and she certainly does not shed her English accent, Penny Arcade’s tales of travelling and everyday stories are relatable anywhere in the world.
While Penny Arcade displays Chambers song writing talents clearly, the album is also very much a collaborative effort. ‘Paper And Glue’ sees Chambers pair up with old friends El Morgan and Kelly Kemp for a great sing along. Chuck Ragan lends his vocals to the album’s standout track ‘Banners’. Placing an a-capella song on an album is a bold choice, a respectful nod to Chambers love of traditional folk; their harmonies intertwine so delicately to create a moment that is pretty close to perfect. Nice one.
Without mincing words Penny Arcade is an album you just have to add to your collection. Emotive and stirring, it does what a good folk album should evoking places and memories and taking on its own character with every listen. While Penny Arcade was never going to an experimental piece of Avant-garde music, it escapes monotony by cleverly tipping its hat to old traditions, making quietly bold choices and never settling for anything less than captivating.
by Clara Cullen