It's really strange how some acts can have a smash hit of an album, and then promptly drop off the radar completely for the rest of their career. Jim Moray certainly can't be described as a one-hit-wonder, but since the phenomenal success of his debut LP, Sweet England, his releases have become ever more low-key. I've followed his career more closely than most[1^], but it was only a chance find whilst browsing the racks in a local record shop that led me to his last record, 2008's Low Culture, and the same thing has happened with his latest offering, In Modern History. Now I don't claim to be totally immersed in the current UK folk scene, but I am a somewhat obsessive consumer of music journalism and I hadn't heard so much as a whisper about this album.
There's a chance that this obscurity is a deliberate choice by Moray himself; he's always been fiercely independent, and he produces and records by himself. One could be forgiven for thinking that his success at the 2004 Folk Awards[2^] was a spanner in the works for his career plan, but that might be reading too much into things.
If I'm brutally honest, Sweet England is by far and away his best record, but I still can't make up my mind on whether the three albums he's released since then are either criminally overlooked or merely got the coverage they deserved.
In many ways I admire Moray's work more than I actually like it. He is without a doubt a beacon for all that is good and progressive n the folk world today, but there's something about the music itself that just doesn't sit right with me. After some close listening to In Modern History I've come to think it's the mixing that lets him down.
The parts are all beautifully constructed, Moray's arrangements of traditional English folk songs are simply magical, and the quality of the musicianship of display is admirable, but there's just not enough dynamic range to this record. You can almost hear where the listener is supposed to be swept away and where one should be drawn in closer to the speakers, but it never quite gets there. In short, _In Modern History _feels more like an academic exercise than an actual record, which is a crying shame because all the ingredients are there for it to be an astounding document of a true visionary at work.
[1^]: I've bought all his records, seen him live twice, and I've even got a t-shirt.
[2^]: He won Best Album and the "Horizon" (Best Newcomer) award.