I distinctly remember the first time I watched Ferris & Sylvester play live. It was at the Cornbury Festival back in 2018 and I was hooked.
I saw them play three appearances on stages of all sizes and each time the audience was completely enthralled. Their chemistry was palpable, their material honest and their songs catchy. It seemed that this folk orientated duo had everything they needed. An album was on the horizon and their EP releases were critically acclaimed. For many artists, the global pandemic and the subsequent lockdown and the loss of being able to play would have been the death knell but for a few artists I think it brought a period of reflection, writing, personal growth and most importantly time. The removal of the pressure of deadlines and schedules was liberating. Whilst inevitably being cash poor, artists found themselves time rich. Ferris & Sylvester used that time incredibly well and the result is the quite brilliant album that is released today.
Today the album ‘Superhuman’ is finally with us and it’s definitely not the album it would have been two years ago, although there are some wonderful survivors of days gone by. The folksy production is replaced by something much gutsier.
Issy Ferris’s smoky sultry vocals are perfectly complemented by Archie Sylvester’s raw blues guitar and vocals. The chemistry is even more palpable but it’s sexier than it was. The material is still honest but it’s soul-baringly so. The songs are still catchy but you’re more likely to stamp and jump than you are to sway. There was a hint that this might have been the direction of travel with their 2019 release ‘I Dare You’, which is sadly missing from the release, but saw folk crash into rock with such style and to such audience delight that it has completely changed the picture. We might never know which of the duo leaned this way but it’s a style that really suits Issy’s vocals and makes Archie look like he’s loving live gigs and the freedom to concentrate on his guitar and not on a kick drum, although that is a sight to behold.
Maybe the track that best illustrates this for me is, ‘This is How My Voice Sounds’ which seems the culmination of everything that came before. It feels like a song about saying what you want to say and not what people expect to hear. I strongly feel that the hiatus of the pandemic allowed this to happen and the result is simply breath-taking. It’s a song that starts simply but becomes almost anthemic. It’s a song that says it’s ok to be what you want to be.
To completely understand the scope of this couple, we should compare that song to the quite beautiful ‘Flying Visit’, a song that could not be left from the album because it is quite simply one of the most beautiful love songs I have heard. A simple guitar led ballad with a heartwarming refrain, it could not be further from the anguished cry of freedom of ‘This Is How My Voice Sounds’ but both stunning in their inception and delivery.
The ten tracks that make up the rest of this release never fall from a very high standard. This album is quite obviously a labour of love and each song has its own personality, story and message. From message songs to gutsy blues, all of the songs showcase the duo and their considerable talent. I have been waiting for an album release from Ferris & Sylvester ever since seeing them play Cornbury and sometimes the anticipation can be misplaced, sometimes it’s easy to get over excited but not this time. The wait has been worthwhile. The album is a triumph.
Fittingly, this Summer I will see Ferris & Sylvester play the last ever Cornbury Festival. It seems apt that as this wonderful Festival draws to a close, it has helped to send this brilliant pairing on their way. Last time, I didn’t know what to expect. This time, they are the reason I bought the tickets!