“Unpredictable” and “inventive” are two words seldom used to describe singers of traditional British folk songs but that’s exactly how the Guardian newspaper describes Sam Lee. The wilderness expert and former art student embarked on a six-year musical journey mining the rich vein of stories and song from English, Scottish and Irish oral traditions. Upon amassing a collection, Lee set out to reinterpret them for a wider and younger audience.
The 35-year-old singer released his first album in 2012 and was handsomely rewarded when it was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, Britain’s honour for best album across musical genres. His just-released second album The Fade In Time is also getting raves.
Lee’s laid-back baritone breathes life into his songs in a notably untraditional fashion, with arrangements that include cello, trumpet, Japanese koto (a plucked string instrument) and an Indian shruti box (a bellows instrument similar to a harmonium). He explains that his centuries-old ballads were sung unaccompanied by travellers who roamed the countryside, “so when it comes to arranging them, anything goes.” Lee roams the musical centuries with imagination and experimentation, renewing a living tradition steeped in drama, love, violence, lore and magic.