Various Artists - Refugee (Brainfog Records)

Various Artists – Refugee (Brainfog Records)

Refugee is a compilation of folk music aiming to raise funds to Migrant Offshore Aid Station Foundation (MOAS), an organisation that provides help to migrants escaping war-torn countries. Robin Adams found himself so moved by an early news report on the Syrian crisis he felt compelled to write a song, and his Bandcamp charity efforts grew into this fifteen-track album of new and unreleased material from some of modern folk’s biggest names. Charity records don’t need to be good to sell, they just need to be worthy, but Refugee doesn’t present a dilemma between art and merit thanks to its strength.

Folk songs about political turmoil, anguish and suffering are nothing new, and Refugee aligns firmly with tradition. But even within those confines, it manages to cover a broad range of reactions: empathy, fury and poignancy. It also manages to cover different ground, from traditional fare from Jenny Lysander and Rachel Sermanni, to material at the outer fringes, like Ricky Ross’ soft-rock leaning ‘Baby What’s To Know’ and Richard Dawson’s experimental vocal loops on ‘To The Sea’. There’s enough here to appeal to purists, dilettantes and outsiders alike.

Kathryn Joseph provides the arguable peak with ‘The Lines’, a torch-song played on a wilting piano, her whisper recalling Stina Nordenstam at her most fragile. But there’s some worthy contenders: the pointedly admonishing Linda Thompson on ‘Witchseason’ and the fragile intimacy of Dana Falconberry on ‘The Dusk’. And of course, the biggest names present – Bonnie Prince Billy, whose ‘Most People’ is tense and brittle, and Alasdair Roberts, who contributes a home recording of ‘Scarce Of Fishing’.

But it’s the track that birthed the compilation that still feels the most striking. Moments into Robin Adams ‘The Devil’s War And God’s Blue Sea’, he sings the damning ‘and now you’d sooner let us drown than open up your door.’ It’s a harrowing line, bitter on paper but sung with the defeated resignation of a community unsupported by a world that won’t respond with the urgent help needed. In a world where the idea of a charity record has become shorthand for rich celebrities using the misfortune of others to develop their image with mediocre music, this is powerful stuff, a creation of not just financial support but empathy and justified outrage. As a compilation, this is as good a snapshot of a scene which is splintering into new and exciting directions. As a charity record, it’s essential.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.