From prolific British popsmith Darren Hayman comes this curious collection of musical dedications to 18 of the U.K.'s Thankful Villages. Following the First World War, writer and journalist Arthur Mee coined this designation in his series of guidebooks to indicate villages where every soldier returned home safely. Hayman, the former brain trust of critically lauded indie outfit Hefner, has always shown a penchant for peculiar, historically minded projects, especially during his solo career. Having composed an instrumental concept album about Britain's open-air swimming pools and adapted a set of William Morris' socialist chants, Hayman turns his attention to this disparate group of locations tied together by their wartime fortunes a century earlier. Ambitious, honest, and intimate, the tracks range from lonesome instrumental field recordings incorporating ambient weather and dialogue to full-fledged folk-pop songs that delve right into their subject's character. As a chronicler of provincial arcana, Hayman is a natural guide, letting each town's personality flow through his ample creative palette. Propelled by his own research and armed with a guitar, baritone ukulele, harmonium, and a smattering of other small instruments, he traveled to each village, documenting his impressions with a portable audio recorder and video camera. The results are charming and spontaneous, with the residents of some villages providing short interviews, reading poems, or even singing, as Hayman sometimes composed music on the spot. With the church still functioning as the social center of many small villages, he was frequently welcomed to use their facilities for his project. On the track "Aisholt," you can hear him playing on the the pump organ to the rhythm of the church's clock mechanism while the muffled tones of choral hymns can be heard emanating from the adjoining room. Rather than a dry, scholarly guide to the Thankful Villages, Hayman's warm snapshots represent a fading vision of rural Britain, and it's a tribute he gives with great respect and tenderness.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger