THE HEDGEROW FOLK
2017 – 10 tracks, 50 minutes
Review by Heidi Wheeler
Imagine yourself on the front porch of a cabin in the Smoky Mountains. The fire inside is crackling, pushing puffy plumes of grey out the chimney. Lush hills are rolling across the horizon and the first rays of a glorious orange and pink sunset are appearing. There’s a faint hint of mildew mixed with evergreen being carried by the breeze and a nearby brook swirls and then straightens, off towards the next leg of its journey. This is the place where The Hedgerow Folk’s mountain folk music invited me; a place where nature and God beckon us to sit and rest, to abandon performance and religion and to just be.
Last year, I agreed to introduce a band to the creative arts enthusiasts of ALTARWORK. The site’s founder, Jason, gave me a few band names, encouraging me to discover who’d I be most excited to review. Drawn to contemplative, lyrical sounds of artists like Iron and Wine and Sufjan Stevens, the choice was likely going to be whoever resonated with my chill music palate.
For months I’ve had the name of the band I chose, The Hedgerow Folk, with the intention of introducing them much earlier than now. I didn’t have time to write because I’ve been living without margin in my life. The reasons are numerous: I recently completed a year immersed in the home building process, I teach for a local university and edit a monthly magazine, have four kids (do I even need to include the rest of this list?), and desire to be a decent wife, friend, and neighbor. I’ve found that writing after the kids go to bed when my brain has mellowed into a semi-catatonic state, and laundry and dishes claim my hands for far too long, isn’t an option. Since mornings have been full of child-care, work, and house building meetings, I’ve put this off forever. The delay, unintentional though it was, has been frustrating.
Ironically, the first Hedgerow song I fell for from their 2014 album, Come Close, is called “Slow Down.” Slow down and listen, it implores. I hear you, yes. Having too much to do isn’t new in my life. I thrive on challenges, busyness, and productivity, certain that if I can convince the world I have it all together, I’ll be able to convince myself. Usually, the exertion-exhaustion cycle includes the realization I can’t do it anymore and there comes a point where I relentlessly clear my plate in order to gain some modicum of balance. Now, being just beyond the plate-clearing phase, I’ve finally had the chance to become more familiar with Hedgerow’s latest album, released in April this year.
The Hedgerow Folk’s most recent compilation, Compass, is an invitation to put down our phones, our chores, our expectations, and our burdens with its resounding theme of rest. My soul retreats and rests with you and I know I’m free, but I’m living as a captive, Lord. Both the lyrics and the melodies invite us out of chaos to a place of peace.
The trio of Jon Myles, Amanda Hammett, and Bryant Hains bring together their vocal, instrumental, writing, and production expertise to create a quietly intimate experience with every song. The unlikely group found each other and solidified in the southern state of Alabama.
Their website tells the story: “Jon Myles and Amanda Hammett were leading worship together in 2012 when they realized there was a creative synergy and began to pursue the idea of recording some original music. Jon had been in a few previous bands but was sensing the Lord leading him to begin to write in a new kind of way that centered around quiet reflection and being in an intimate relationship with Christ. Bryant Hains and Jon had previously played together in another band for several years and had really begun to have a mutual respect for each other as artists, recognizing that each one had something unique to offer when it came to creating music.”
After some prayer and consideration, Jon, Bryant, and Amanda began working and writing together and eventually solidified their group under the name The Hedgerow Folk (taken from a line of a C.S. Lewis poem).
A once-reluctant singer who lacked confidence, Amanda now boldly lends her ethereal voice to the group, as well as plays some acoustic guitar. Jon covers the guitar, piano, dobro, and banjo, and Bryant adds creative elements on bells, keys, melodica, electric guitar, and other instruments.
According to Amanda, writing is a group effort where the guys’ history allows them to play off each other’s strengths. “Jon often writes in an acoustic format, and Bryant then adds elements that make the songs even more instrumentally creative.”
Well-done contemplative indie folk collectives with roots planted firmly in a sacred garden are generally hard to find (or at least are unpromoted)—especially those that offer music acceptable for church. The Hedgerow Folk’s Compass is a delightful exception. In it’s own uniquely amorphous way, it bridges the church-music-listen-for-pleasure chasm.
Written during a time of abiding, waiting, and listening, Compass seeks to lead others into that space. “Trying to Catch a Ghost” outlines the struggle many of us experience in our modern paced spiritual walks:
I’m trying to hear you Lord, trying to listen through the noise, but all I hear is fear,
in the tone of my own voice, I’m trying to hear you, Lord.
And your love keeps coming but with a louder sound,
I don’t what keeps me down,
but I can hear the winds of change blowing over this heart of torment,
I’ve been holding out, trying to wrap my mind around,
and I can see the hands of heaven reaching down.
Other stand out tracks include Scars, Compass, and Father, Son, and Ghost but every song contributes to the same theme and I suspect listeners will resonate with and digest the album as a whole.
I’ve attended church outside a handful of times—what I’ve noticed is that it feels seamless. I’m witness to the work of a great Creator and that in turn invokes natural praise. Compass reminds me of that sensation. It’s unforced, unhurried, and natural. No blaring lights, no stadiums of people jumping with their hands raised, no pretentious accouterments. Just a harmonic trio layered with innovative instrumentation that sends us to the presence of God.
Amanda Hammett answers more questions for ALTARWORK readers:
How’d you get your band name?
AH: “We took the name from a poem called The Condemned by C.S. Lewis.”
Do not blame us too much if we that are hedgerow folk
Cannot swell the rejoicings at this new world you make.
But what does this mean?
AH: The whole of the poem is that wild animals that will not be tamed or domesticated. Many times our attempts at controlling things actually crush the beauty and the spirit of those things. We believe it is a great mistake to try to domesticate God or the Holy Spirit that lives within us.
Do you tour?
AH: We haven’t actually been at a place to tour much over the past couple of years, but we’re hoping to do more of that now that Compass is completed. The Lord has stirred a desire in us to get out and take these songs to the people that He is preparing to hear them, so touring is definitely something we are looking to do in the future.
What’s the purpose of the music you make?
AH: Our desire is to create music that leads people to slow down and hear the voice of our Father in their lives. That the words of these songs might show people what He’s really like and how deeply He loves us.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
AH: Well, all three us have varying tastes in music, actually. Bryant is a big fan of The Beatles, and their producer George Martin. He’s also really been influenced by bands like Sufjan Stevens, Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire, and others. I’ve always been drawn to bands with compelling harmonies. The Dixie Chicks were a big past influence and currently All Sons & Daughters. Jon has always loved folk singer songwriters like John Prine and Townes Van Zandt.
How did the band form?
AH: We grew out of a local church body, Embrace Church, in Auburn, AL. In 2012, Jon and Amanda were leading worship together there and found something special about the combination of our voices. Jon had been writing some original music and we began to pursue the idea of recording together. Bryant and Jon had been in a band together for a few years prior, and worked really well together. Bryant brings such a unique talent and ear to the instrumentation and production side of the music. So the three of us began working and writing together under the name The Hedgerow Folk.
Tell us about the songwriting process.
AH: Since the release of our first album in 2014, we’ve really grown in the process of writing together, and developed a system that works well for us. Jon and Amanda get together and write lyrics and melodies. The themes and words of the songs come from what the Lord is doing in our lives, and in the lives of the people around us. We typically write them in an acoustic/folk kind of way and then send the songs to Bryant. He adds a variety of instruments and embellishments that bring a depth to the music. And all of us working together just creates this really unique sound.
Why this album and why now?
AH: Well, the short answer is because God has led us to create it. Of that we’re certain. The past two years have been quite a journey for us with the Father. He’s spoken much to us about trust and abiding in Him and His love for us, even in the midst of uncertainty and hurt. We feel like these are songs He has written for healing and restoration. We pray that this music might be a force for the Kingdom of God in this world. And why now? Quite honestly this album has been a labor of love, going much slower than we’d like at times. We trust that it’s all part of His plan, though, and that the timing of this album is perfectly His. We are being shaped by what He’s teaching us in the waiting.
The music of The Hedgerow Folk is a call to taking a few moments of contemplative beauty. It’s an invitation to stop and wrestle with the unknown, a marriage of listening and obedience. But most of all, it’s healing, pointing us to a restorative place—the presence of God.
Connect with The Hedgerow Folk:
Preview Compass and get it on iTunes: