Latest track I Am Yours sees Joseph Hammill take the first-person role of the titular Infant Hercules set to a droning intro that only gives way to piano in the second verse, a sound that could be carved from the Eston Hills and as the EP opener acts as an absorbing introduction to the title track that follows. Over before it’s begun, no chorus, more an incantation as if swept in on a sea breeze or an echo from the industrial past. Ghost folk, as if stitched into time itself. The antithesis to The Mighty Redcar but no less relevant as if hanging in the (smoggy) ether of history. In fact the production throughout this EP (courtesy of Young Rebel Set’s Patrick Jordan) is smouldering with an understated intensity it’s difficult not to get swept along in its industrial echoes.
The question of what to do with Infant Hercules must have been on Cattle & Cane’s mind for a while. Arguably both one of the great folk songs from the region and its parent band’s finest track to date, it has at times struggled to fit in stylistically with the band’s march towards more countrified mainstream success while geographically it is a song not just rooted in the region but virtually every nuance of the lyrics is ingrained in Teesside lore. With the band seemingly now focusing exclusively on the full instrumentation and dual melodies and duets of most recent album, Mirrors, it has proved difficult to incorporate the Joe sung ballad into the band’s increasingly ambitious live shows, while the working men’s clubs and smaller shows, well, that folk scene can be tough.
Pleasingly this new darker solo version stays true to its roots, sounding like it was recorded in a foundry. Gritty northern folk and a shoe-in on the Peaky Blinders soundtrack, if it was set in Boulby. There is a Lyndsey Buckingham Big Love quality to the background acoustic guitar now but don’t let that put you off. The intermittent rhythmic percussion, flurries of electric guitar and orchestra that accompany it as cavernous echoes coming and going in the foreground means the ukulele stylings of the original are all but lost and make this version so much more emphatic. Without swamping that unmistakable vocal progression means there is a steely determination here even more prescient and determined in the hopeful chorus than in the original. It sounds more like it’s from a time rather than about a time, slower and more defiant the subtle male choir adds an earthiness that wasn’t there in the more upbeat original.
For fans of the parent band the simple countrified duet with X-Factor starlet Abi Alton, Lead Me To The Water, is buoyed by pedal steel and gentle electric guitar while retaining the sparse fragility and echoes present throughout this release. Pleasantly surprising is closer Home To Be Loved which begins acapella, a nod to the old unaccompanied folk arrangements and a gentle reminder that’s it’s folk music where it all started for Joseph before a barely audible acoustic appurtenance fades in. Joseph’s voice has never sounded so vulnerable as the final track treads the familiar yearning for home theme that runs through much of the singer’s songwriting and the hummed outro heralds a more mature addition to the Cattle & Cane stable and makes this EP an essential for fans of the band.