With fourth album The Sparrow and the Thief, five-strong Welsh band Rag Foundation have delivered an invigorating breath of fresh folk air that keeps you on your toes with its capacity to stir emotions and hold them in balance. The entirely self-composed album of mostly ballads explores the beginning and ending of relationships, the dysfunction and despair that can accompany the heights of passion and the grimmer aspects of life. It is sensitively written with clear-eyed assurance and a message of hope infused throughout.
The further in you go, the more sentimental and emotion inducing it gets. Depending on the track, the vocal, storytelling and strings are part soothing, part animated, part mournful and hopeful. All eleven tracks evoke a tumble of imagery. Throughout, a sense of longing and searching can be felt, perfect for a reflective soak, run or road trip.
‘Your Hands’ is where it began. The album sprouted from an earlier working of the track which traces a dysfunctional relationship from beginning to end. ‘Run’ is a song about hope and the first beautiful flush of passion where temptation to hibernate from Earth and humanity is strong. ‘Keep The Lights Low’ is an upbeat track communicating strength and positivity.
‘Sparrow Song’, ‘First Day Of September’, ‘Beloved and Ship of Fools’ begin with a soothing intro of strumming guitar and gentle vocal. ‘Ship Of Fools’ is a lovely, nostalgic track about returning home after a voyage of discovery: “If our ship of fools should be run aground / Bring my body home / Keep me safe and sound,” the band sings. ‘Freedom is a Stranger’ is equally nostalgic but with an energetic beat urging feet to dance.
This new release is a labour of love which captures what’s important: love and hope. The band’s traditional homely roots are evident throughout. The Sparrow and the Thief has the potential to comfort through turbulent times, though is worth a listen whatever time it may be.
The Sparrow And The Thief is out 29 June.
Helen Marie Grant