One of Hefner's loveliest songs, 'The Greedy Ugly People', ends with the phrase "Love... don't stop no wars; don't stop no cancer; it stops my heart," repeated over and over. Love might not stop wars, but it certainly helps. And for the 54 'Thankful Villages' visited for former Hefner frontman Darren Hayman's latest project, luck came into play too.

So named by Arthur Mee in his 1936 series of guidebooks, Thankful Villages are characterised by their good fortune: every volunteer they sent to fight in World War One returned home alive. Though their survival of conflict is what unites these places, in fact WW1 crops up only occasionally on the record; Thankful Villages is described as 'a project about rural life' first and foremost. The first of this planned three-volume set sees Hayman predominantly touring the south: Kent, Somerset, Gloucestershire, and crafting a musical response to the stories he uncovers with each stop.

The first and last villages on the album - Knowlton, in Kent, and Bradbourne, in Derbyshire - contain what might be the closest thing to 'pop songs' on the record: laconic melodies build over gentle guitars, "Be the bravest, win a Prize," making reference to the prize won by Knowlton for 'Bravest Village in Britain', having sent the highest proportion of volunteers to war (the prize itself provoked controversy, as many of Knowlton's men weren't native to the village and worked in a nearby manor). Some villages, however, are represented simply by an evocative instrumental phrase, field recording, or spoken word piece, either from a village resident or Hayman himself. It's this intuitive response that renders the project so personal and engaging; at times the album feels like a sketchbook, a fleeting glance at fragments that work towards a greater cumulative purpose.

Sonically, Thankful Villages Vol. 1 makes use of unadorned guitar lines, on-location church organs and recorded choirs; a lo-fi approach that bears admirable fruit, inviting comparison to Gorky's Zygotic Mynci's enthralling medieval folk experiment The Blue Trees. Elsewhere, the album comes closer to soundtrack territory; perhaps for a scene from one of Shane Meadows' mellower moments (indeed, Thankful Villages also exists as a series of films online).

It's a multimedia project with a similar scope and ambition as Gruff Rhys' American Interior, but with a clearer eye for detail, and a subject which resonates more closely. As an exercise in chronicling communities, it is undoubtedly valuable - as an album, it hangs together beautifully, avoiding the pitfalls of many concept records with its warm, honest approach. For those still expecting Hefner's lyrical cattiness, it may come as a bit of a shock - but for everyone else, this is the first leg of an affable, peculiar and pleasurable British journey.