Hatful Of Rain - Way Up On The Hill (Union Music Store)

Sussex-based roots outfit Hatful Of Rain came together at a 2010 South Coast folk festival when mandolin-player Fred Gregory (also with Porchlight Smoker) hooked up with vocalist Chloe Overton and banjo/bass-player Phil Jones, with the line-up completed at the first rehearsal by the appearance of Jones' mate James Shenton – a violinist whose fiddling credits range from the London Symphony Orchestra to the Balanescu Quartet.

Released Jul 5th, 2012 via Union Music Store / By Norman Miller
Hatful Of Rain - Way Up On The Hill (Union Music Store) With a name taken from a line in Tom Waits' Long Way Home, you might expect gruff blues but this debut album is very British folk, enlivened by nods to bluegrass and a dash of kletzmer on Jerusalem Tart – a foot-tappin' homage to Jones' skill at cultivating Jerusalem artichokes rather than anything ribald.

The lovely title track, with its delicate sputtering strings and mournful lyric, is just one of several songs by Overton, whose beautiful vocals shine throughout - though the boys are more than her backing band, with each contributing songs as well as fine accompaniment.

Jones' Rockin’ Chair Daddy is a breathless skiffle reflection on growing up in the wrong place at the wrong time loving the wrong music, enlivened by a fine slide guitar break from Gregory - whose earlier Welcome To The Family is a mordant tale of family dysfunction gone real bad.

Overton's contributions dominate, though, displaying an impressive compositional range. Winter Rose welds a bittersweet lyric to a stately waltz, while No Return goes upbeat with rushing rhythms and breathless lyric capturing the mood of the deeply smitten. The sprightly instrumental Trafalgar Road contrasts with the Scruggs-style banjo plus driving mandolin and fiddle of Whiskey.

The best thing here, though, is the penultimate The Exit Song, an aching Dylan-esque gem which, if Adele had done it, would probably be No.1 everywhere.

A wider instrumental sound beyond the fiddle/mandolin/guitar template would have been good, as might a dash of Shane McGowan devilry rather than respectful folksiness. But these are minor quibbles on a promising debut.