Sam Lee: songdreaming review – a moving tribute to Albion’s troubled soul

<span>‘Dreamlike atmosphere’: Sam Lee.</span><span>Photograph: Dominick Tyler</span>
‘Dreamlike atmosphere’: Sam Lee.Photograph: Dominick Tyler

Over the past dozen years, no one has tended the sacred flame of folk song more assiduously than London’s Sam Lee. Singer, promoter, wilderness expert (he trained with Ray Mears), Lee’s principal mission has been “finding new soundworlds for old songs”, many of them learned at the hearths of the travelling community. His third album, 2020’s Old Wow, expanded the musical palette, setting Lee’s rich voice to innovative arrangements by Bernard Butler, the former Suede guitarist turned mature polymath.

songdreaming is more ambitious still. The songs are Lee’s own, their singer cast as a shamanic figure wandering through landscapes hymned in folk song and poetry but now facing ecological collapse. Opener Bushes and Briars begins as a leisurely search for birdsong that is gradually subsumed by a menacing churn of violin, piano, guitar and discordant noise. Numbers that start as languorous, melodic balladry mutate into chasms of space noise or, in the case of Meeting Is a Pleasant Place, thunderous defiance given voice by a trans choir, Trans Voices. Romantic love and awe of nature prove inseparable: “Be soft like green moss, be free,” urges Lee. The record’s dreamlike atmosphere is seductive and disquieting; a moving tribute to Albion’s troubled soul.