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Dark Folk Duo Electronic Folk Music Folk Stories Historical Myths Nature Folk Poem Review Spoken Word Synth

Swift Wings and Lost Stones – Live Gig Review

University of Sheffield Drama Studio on 13 November 2022

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We had the pleasure of attending an event which marks the shimmering of the air and the slipstream of the horror season as we move from the month of Halloween and into the one of even darker nights and exploding lights. 

With a strong connection to Folk Horror, early 20th Century, poetry and traumatising children’s television (which is slightly before my time), we are treated to a thoughtful, exploratory evening of two parts, namely (i.) a lecture on the Avebury stones, Stonehenge and Silbury Hill, and ideas around them, and (ii.) a musical gig that provides atmospheric samples and song over essential poetry. This all takes place within the cool, intimate wings of the University of Sheffield’s Drama Studio.

To start, we meet David Bramwell, author of “Cult of Water” as he looks into the Avebury Stones, his experiences and connections with the children’s show, “Children of the Stones”. It is an intriguing, enlightening talk and not exclusively for its educational value. Brawell does an almost Dave Gorman thing by pursuing the history of a fake stone head that was part of an April Fools Joke around Avebury and where that indeed may lead to. Along the way there is a joyous, informed exploration of monuments and interpretations of their purpose. His playful manner does dig into some of our most basic preconceptions sometimes such as, “Cavemen didn’t live in caves, they could build houses, no-one would ever live in a cave.” That raised a good laugh. 

The theme of our preconceptions is the starring role here as Bramwell gives us a glimpse of what a particular brand of children’s programme was in the 70’s (I will give you a clue, terrifying). On one hand he looks at the notion of celebrity through history; and on the other he dips his toe into counterculture views of the stones when he recalls discussions with musician and celebrity Julian Cope. As you would expect, when Cope gets involved it goes, in all the best ways, from him dipping his toe in to losing a leg to an alligator under the still waters. 

The second half brought us to a gig by Justin Hopper and Sharron Kraus with tracks from their swift wings album. Here the ambience of the venue at Sheffield Drama Studio (which we haven’t mentioned yet) really came into its full. Sparse lighting, an enigmatic triangle of candles and the aetheric, sight saturating brightness of Wendy Pye’s nature visuals. 

Combining Krauss’s haunting vocals,  recorders, flute and synth loops with Justin Hopper’s assured narration, we enter the world of Victor Neuburg, a more-than associate of Aleister Crowley and the poetry he produced through his own press. Before the performance there was some context to Neuburg’s life and viewpoint which complimented the open, peaceful messages of the first half of the evening. Neuburg clearly suffered through life, but many of his joys are also scratched deep into the velum of his work, where many of his poems spring from (only having been uncovered this very year). Some of our favourite of the chilling but often bursting-with-life tracks include, “Frenchlands” an upbeat, woodwind-fuelled, mustard-yellow haze of a dream that precipitates the mind like a passing ray of sun on the face. “Coombes” a more future-centric track which can hit like a kind of spiritual cyborg, ruminating on “ghosts”, and the the otherworldly purgatory, grey and flat “October” feeling that trying to escape the taunt of spiraling, embracing thorns. Joy and gloom, the call of history and the spirit of doing justice to this creative, obscure soul is a great way to spend an evening. The album itself will undoubtedly be an interesting staple for folk fans, folk horror enthusiasts, poet-chasers and magickal practitioners all alike and together in appreciation.

Thoughtful and enjoyable as both a nostalgic folk horror memory, an exploration of counter-cultural notions (such as water dowsing), and a call to pre-Christian beliefs it was a great night amplified by the immersive, humbling and spiritual power of Swift Wings’ performance.

If you are interested in having a listen to the album, then click on to their Bandcamp here, or checkout a sample video below.

Categories
British Folk Music Mixed Genre nature Nature Folk Romanian World

Lizabett Russo – “While I Sit and Watch This Tree” Volume 2

Still unique in her magical space between Scotland and Romania, Russo’s glass vocals strike an irresistable balance of mind and nature that encompasses an idiosyncratic, beautiful reflection of self.

Release Date – 4th November 2022

Lizabett Russo returns with “While I sit and Watch This Tree Volume 2”, a continuation of her multiform presentation of consciousness. 

Previously we wrote about Lizabett Russo (do go and read here) in her previous volume which we described as, “the art of Scott Maismithi with its sharp, bright colours showing the natural landscape like a musician’s heart and soul in bloom.” Volume 2 does reach these joyful optimistic notes, but the lower, darker tracks are more pronounced like the blacker, denser part of a creme caramel with its chains of musical sugars tangled together. It is an album of balance though. Much like Russo’s other works it is not primarily of one mood, but several taking place on stage, and some even jostling for position within the same song; all taking place within Russo’s love of nature.

Romanian-born, and Scotland-settled Russo is joined again by Graeme Stephen on guitar, piano and effects, Udo Dermadt on percussion and Oene van Geel on strings. As before, they more than deliver on building and performing what often sounds like Russo’s inner monologue on the themes of identity. The space is filled with experimentation in percussion, a sense of improvisation in the strings and an attitude of exploration through its musical layers. It would not work without the sound recording as it is, but the mix manages to highlight all the areas and musicians’ work here. 

Russo’s second track “Lessons” is like a sweeping, deadly spray of liquid nitrogen cooling on to scorching metal, her central emotions  pulsing within a metal vessel. The instructive vocals are not unlike an inner voice that reassures the subject, “Even if it broke you, it lifted up your soul”. The voice balms as Russo talks of both a past love and the resenting effort it can be to love. This plays across a background that recognises the positive feelings that are felt in awkward, unfulfilled relationships. This dualism is reflected in the soundscape as a whole with gentle guitar-like strings navigating around electronic strings and samples that are almost shaking themselves away with its own tension in a swelling and tearing of fiercer emotions in this aural mindscape. In the track, “Woman Have you Lost Your Mind?”, we get a more ethereal tale of Russo’s head trying to calm her heart on her decision to move so far from home.. Similarly cerebral, it is overall much warmer in tone, more comforting and ruminating, “people are flowers they do come back in the springtime”. It is almost a song of self-care. Both songs are different parts of the mind talking to itself; Russo examines the world of her inner picture like a mechanic doing a Rorschach test from the collected rivulets of motor oil on her workbench.

Track 5 “What Grows Inside Dark Souls” lays a path of thudding, nearing danger that is dark and ambient. Russos deep instructive vocals are cut with thoughts, words, possibly curses as the electronic samples both tingle and throb. The whole soundscape is how we would imagine Blade Runner’s Vangelis and how the soundtrack would be on the edges of Los Angeles where undisturbed forest clashes with technology. As all the tracks here the elements leap together in this excellent thought experiment. The way it combines invokes questions of the source of evil, and how old superstition and spiritual beliefs can be encouraged, accelerated and formed by technology. Like a technological chorus you hear flashes of nature coming through, it is a powerful, sense-blasting song. 

Whilst the album, as the ones before, occupy a beautiful not-fully known space of jazz, world and folk; Russo as has previously shown, makes a full leap into trad folk for a track or two (The Water is Wide on the last album), and here it is for House Carpenter (Child 243). We have heard a lot of Russo’s work and would never expect her to take off her shoes and walk for an album of traditional British Folk, her power is definitely her explorations in consciousness and inner monologue, unfettered by expected convention. Saying that, her treatment of House Carpenter, for us at least, is nothing short of stellar. Russo’s vocal range lowers to better fit, but the jewel of her personal experience and learning can be clearly seen in how this song is tackled. Beautifully melodic, vocally interesting and reassuringly atmospheric, Russo’s voice along with backing harmonies bring the sense of tragedy that is needed. It all fits as well in an album that contains the questioning decisions that a person makes, much like the subject of the song about leaving her child.

“Hora Unirii” is an expression of Russo’s deeper roots. The 1856 poem by Vasile Alecsandri (with music being composed by Alexandru Flechtenmacher) is especially sung as and unofficial anthem of Romania. Much like Televiziunea Română, who used it to sign off during their network during 1985 to 1989, Russo likewise signs off on her new album. Originally sung, as you would expect, in that rousing Masculine open-heart manner, Russo instead emphasises the fragile, quietness of love for her birth Country, She does this with a simple, emotive performance over the gentle sways of a music box. It seems to show a love which continues as the key is wound, a beautiful, personal kind that is deep in the heart and must continue to be tended to throughout life.

“While I sit and Watch This Tree Volume 2” is an enthralling, cerebral work that explores Russo’s journey in a semi-autobiographical way. The songs parade across genres, unified by an inner questioning that hints of regret be it for some major decision previously made (as in House Carpenter), a call to her homeland (Hora Unirii), or over some kind of relationship (Lessons). It might be just that Russo is reflecting on her life in a bare, honest fashion and laid it down carefully on this album. With the clever, original work we got, this is no bad thing.

If you would like to purchase the new album, the best place is from the artist direct here.

Lizabett Russo is also on tour (at time of writing), check out her site to see her live! (here).

Categories
Album/EP Reviews Debut Folk Music Irish Nature Folk Scots Singer-Songwriter

Iona Lane – Hallival – Album Review

Released – March 25 2022

From beyond the rolling mist (and probably a few sheets of snow) the mountain of Hallival stands beautiful as a site of exploration, and in seeing it, a conquest of one’s own very ideas of beauty. Iona Lane’s debut album takes this beauty and transcribes it into a folky exploration (and a curious one) heavily inspired by the mountain on the island of Rum. Lane digs deep into Scottish folklore and legends and sets these delightful pictures to the wallpaper of the green, enigmatic landscape itself (with a beautiful, careful meshing). This mixing of inspiration and lore is a stirring, deep breath out and a fresh start to the year.

There are some interesting tracks to find here. 

“May You Find Time” is a good place to start. Being a kind of call for the restorative balm of nature and everything in it it breathes deeply in a refreshing way. Lane sings of wild baths, the building of nests and to“look for tides to take your sorrow”. Unashamedly bouncy and joyful, it is unsurprising if it will help to reappraise some of the simpler joys in your life.  

“Fingal & Bran” is one of those mythologically tickling tracks you get on a folk album. A song about the duo of giant and dog; it is a gentle affair that looks at the landscape and muses on the pair’s travails as they can be seen in the wondrous shapes of the hillside, the breath of the wild as we consider “causeways and caves and all things fade”. Lane’s voice has a kind of choral shadow here like a brambled hedgerow that darkens its poppier influences only to tracer sparks of the orchestral strings of classic folk. Slightly melancholy, its echoes and character harken to the delightfully exploratory path of Emily Portman with a fantastical darkness hiding in the potential energy of a cobra knot.

We also have a lot of time for “Mermaid”. Lane’s voice is smooth alongside the lament of the shruti drone.  Like all the best stories of yore, it concerns the family of the Macleods and how they got the Devil’s hands to help build Ardvreck Castle. The problem is that the father of the family refuses to sell his own soul to the Devil as a price but offers his daughter’s hand in marriage in return.The instruments are slightly unsettling and build atmosphere in the background to Lane’s seriousness. The tension ratchets up as it goes on. The track wears the spectral influences on its sleeves and invites you to imagine this moment of history while you look into Loch Assynt.  

Headspace is a beautiful and short addition to the album. Like the tapping of light fingertips to the cheeks it speaks as a love song to the gentle joy of happiness within. Its melody depicts the joyous feeling of a mind at rest, like a puppy with its playful tummy being tickled. The piano tinkles are a large-eyed enthusiasm, and the dancing strings of the guitar deck float in a gentle breeze; it is close to one of those ASMR videos with Lane’s softly spoken voice and positivity. This positivity oozes on to the following track, “Crossroads”, a sincere call for freedom that Lane wrote in response to history and how traditional instruments, music and dance have been banned across Scotland and Ireland at different times. 

All-in-all, the album is the essence of delicate nature and the energy within like a sun-filled day and a basket full of freshly washed laundry. Her songs are like the heaving clothes that splatter an intriguing, emotive water as they are heaved over Spanish floor tiles. There is a heartfelt construction and performance here which shines in the confidence of its debut status. It is also methodical, it does not rush to gorge the senses, but slowly enfolds from its creation and warms the listener. 

We love the range. As mentioned, Lane plays hopscotch with the natural world, stories and myths and a dash of history in the influences for the album and manages to keep the interest of each part in her sights. If this sounds up your street, you could do far worse than check out Iona Lane’s first album, a considered and strong entry into the world of folk. 

If you are interested in purchasing the album, we recommend purchasing direct from Iona Lane on BandCamp @ https://ionalane.bandcamp.com/releases

Categories
Acoustic Album/EP Reviews Animal Duo Energetic Folk Music Folk Pop Folk Rock Folk Stories Nature Folk No Covers

Birds and Beasts – “Kozmik Disko” review

Like the thunderous hooves of an approaching stampede, Birds and Beasts’ second album is a groove-filled, thumping and purposeful sophomore album which puts it’s classic rock expertise to very good use.

Album Launch Date: 23/10/21

If you have been living in a cave for the past few years, then chances are, (without you realising) you have had a song or two written about you by a band  from the sunny uplands of West Yorkshire. This will not be due to your lack of up-to-date news about youth slang, or your dislike of music post 1982, but it might be because you are a bear. Let us explain.

The Huddersfield-based band “Birds and Beasts” are the duo of Anna and Leo Brazil who had an epiphany about nature and our relationship with it. By looking at the behaviour and lives of animals, they combine the daily struggles of being an ant (for example) with imagery and situations we recognise as part of being human too. This natural communion has served them well on their previous offering, “Entwined” and now, after returning from that shady glen, their second album is out called “Kozmik Disko”. 

There is a temptation for us of a certain age (or with children) to have apocalyptic visions of a rave style “Baa Baa Black Ship” or a Hard House version of “Nellie the Elephant” while a DJ plays sped-up samples from a BBC Wildlife documentary (I am almost certain that second track exists and I have danced to it). Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth as “Birds and Beast” carefully knit a strikingly sharp cardigan which has shades of commentary, wry humour and great sounds, as a well-constructed work that does not take short cuts. It’s mastering at Abbey Road Studios have put a real magnetic luster on the already fine contents.  

Take track 4 “The Bloat”, for example. Here is a song about warring hippos in direct confrontation of a watering hole. A watery layer of classic rock, some chunky riffs and jazz undertones the scene plays out like one of those old film brawls with flailing arms and accusations calling out over the top. Think of the Barn Fight from “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” but instead taking place in a 1970s Discotek. The vocals compliment each other well, there is a little kick of a pace and the song is an example, as many are on the album, of the artists’ versatility. Much like the Cape Buffalo, a thoughtful exploration of one’s partnership can suddenly turn, the track snakes in one direction and then finds a new emotion and beat, Before you know it you have been a lead in to a music genre that has been skillfully smuggled and blended in.

“The Current” tells of a shark and it’s electrical impulses that lead it to food, friends and family. Like the strong guitars of Heart’s “Barracuda” (also another shark, of course), the song has a strong beating heart where the two guitar tracks interact which pushes it on. Clean guitars throughout and a nicely light drum compliment the upbeat glow of the singers’ voices. It warms the hands and feet like a gentle, coal fire. A fine example of classic rock, “The Current” takes a concise approach to describing the creature as it feels around the busy waters much like the electric anticipation of a live concert. 

“The Day I was Born” is even more radiant describing the sweeter side of love alongside the intoxicating role of the honey bee. More than ready to jump into a soft shoe shuffle, the track is full of platitudes such as, “I am yours, body and soul”. The honey bee here is chosen from birth to “marry” the Queen bee, and the human subject comparatively is more than smitten and in love. The sense of all life being preordained and the subject being strongly carried by the waves of fate presides through the number. While we listen there are the bouncy sensibilities of 60s boy bands powdered with the pollen of 80s new wave and rock as those awesome brief synth interludes put their head over the parapets. Colourful and joyous, the track grabs you like a rainbow bulldog clip and refuses to let go. Wherever Birds and Beasts travel through or end up at with their songs there are some extremely catchy segments and turns of phrase that indicate some well-placed confidence in the songwriting department.

The joy of the album is that there are obvious and easy choices taken here, the songs are written well enough to take a pummeling even by an individual with no knowledge of the natural world because the human factor is equally recognisable and celebrated alongside. For every eloping couple there is the song, “Wolfpack” about two wolves leaving the pack to start a new life; for every hero there is “Keep Walking” the ant who sacrifices communication and closeness with the rest of the hive in order to save them; and if that’s not analogous enough we get “Deep Down”, a scorpion’s tireless search to find a mate. True, there is a lot about love here, but not once do you have to sit down to dull the nausea. There is all sorts of love: obsessive love, romantic love, love through duty and the songwriters give each a proper examination in the light of their watchful eyes. It helps that everything from the album cover artwork (designed by the band), to the off-beat, bright, DIY style to the music videos add oodles of charm; no scrap that, noodles of charm all hugging together in an instant ramen cup.

One of our favourites from the album has to be “Silver Moon Array” where a hedgehog awakes a little early (mid)  hibernation and does not recognise the world he has stepped into. Incredibly atmospheric, you feel a shiver as the snow comes and the hedgehog’s vision of stretches of grass is replaced by concrete. The duos’ vocals dance together with a good harmony with Anna taking the lead adding a great sadness underneath the jangly melody and tinged with an almost Caribbean keyboard backing track. The accompanying video (see below) just adds to the scene and tugs the heart chords.       

In case you hadn’t guessed, we strongly recommend “Birds and Beasts”. Their new album is a tight work that is informed by, but also extremely generous with it’s genre influences. It is an original series of tracks that pays its respects to animals without dressing them up in top hats and dinner jackets. Evocative and confident, the “Birds and Beasts” second album is an essential purchase for those with a hankering for unabashedly classic rock with an intriguing central premise that goes a long, long way.

Birds and the Beasts are launching their album tour, starting at the Laurence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield (supported by Dan Healey) on 23rd October, and then are going outward to other great venues, check out the details here.


The album is available from all good stockists, we recommend you purchase from the band directly here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVx_t-3DAGo
Categories
Album/EP Reviews Dorset Duo Folk Music Gentle Nature Folk

Ninebarrow- “A Pocket Full of Acorns” Review

Timely, persistent and quiet. The natural world continues to spill forth from Ninebarrow’s fourth album, in all the best ways.

Those quiet boys of folk, Ninebarrow, have been keeping themselves busy during the lockdown.

Well, when we say quiet, we acknowledge that ever since their debut album they have been anything but; with recognition from the BBC2 Folk Awards and numerous magazine and online publications, becoming a pillar of Lyme Folk Festival as well as their books and commissions they have been involved in. But then “quiet” is all relative and you can still be softly spoken while still working hard. 

Ninebarrow, photographed in Dorset, October 2020 by Greg Funnell.

In these strange times the duo of Jon Whitley and Jay Labouchardiere have been, in fact, quietly working on their latest folk album “A Pocket Full of Acorns”. This disc looks to the natural world by specifically relishing in the human experience of it. One of the few pleasures that has not been totally off-limits during the lockdown here in the UK is the great outdoors; it appears that the nation’s love of the countryside has been reignited somewhat as it becomes the go-to meeting space. With this in mind, Ninebarrow should be in a good position as the British countryside serves as the primary inspiration for their brand of folk, it has been their muse from the very beginning and it is what they are good at singing about. 

With “A pocket full of acorns” (their fourth album) there might be a temptation to wonder where Ninebarrow has left to go with their brand of softly spoken, nature-infused folk which has served them well up to this point. Well, it seems that whilst their newest pastures are not far from the homestead we see once again that their conviction, appreciation of a simple message, and crystal clear vocals win the day against possible dissenters. To understand we could consider a bottle of olive oil. It is a hugely popular item in a kitchen and is quite ubiquitous as so much cooking requires it. For the oil to be special and stand out it has to excel in quality against its competitors. Luckily, if Ninebarrow’s combined duo vocals are like olive oil, then we can safely say that this album is beyond extra virgin.  

In exploring the roots of this work, let us now turn to the tracks.

The namesake of the album, “A pocketful of acorns” is a good place to start. The song is directly inspired by a vice Admiral in the Napoleonic times who considered the need for trees for the future of the Navy and the Country, and as a result, always carried some in his hands as he walked. When you listen, there is this pensive, personal consideration of responsibility that comes through the song. On top of this, the simple reigns supreme as the listener re-experiences the wonder of holding a potential natural wonder in their hands, ready to unfurl upwards. As such we consider actions we might take to help preserve the future. The piano is like an old wooden emissary of the woods swaying and creaking as the duo lay down this sympathetic and spiritual track and tt is, in our opinion, as close to anything they have produced that represents the core message intention and purpose Ninebarrow possess as songwriters. For additional kudos, as a part of their album release the duo are embarking on the task of planting 1000 native English trees and several shrubs which is intended to cover the carbon footprint for them touring the album. They are (so to speak) putting their money where their mouth is here, and it is a credit to their message.

Ninebarrow, photographed in Dorset, October 2020 by Greg Funnell.

Another track which exemplifies the light-touch of the album is “Nestledown”. At their most understated, the duo gently speak as if their song is the secretive sounds of the Earth’s hum, the patter and scrape of the earthworm with their guidance to the seedlings looking to grow and thrive, “there’s warmth in the air.. But nestle down deep.” Taking inspiration from the local Dartford Warbler (who braves the British cold and doesn’t migrate) and a desire to “looking forward to longer days” it is almost trance-like, taking the simple concepts of light and heat and hits the primal feels. It allows us to imagine we are of nature seeking the simple clarity of nature’s desires away from the complexities of social constructs that are divorced from nature. Instinctive and atmospheric, it is another wonder added to the disc.

“You Who Wander” is everything that is the joy of the different seasons. A bouncy rendition of the English tune “Speed the Plough” with an added exuberant splash of percussion. It is great in it’s vocal observations of those small joys such as “the glint of the Winter and the promise of Spring”. A song about rambling, it is somewhat of a prayer for walkers to have a fair day and to put your best foot forward, maybe for all sorts of things in life. It is like a feast for the optimist and a small, warm hug for those listeners who are under the weather.   

One feeling the audience might express on a cursory listening is that Ninebarrow take few diversions from enjoying the countryside. This isn’t strictly speaking true though as further attention shows us they do deviate from their theme here and there. If something else takes your fancy there is the cover of Patrick Wolf’s “Teignmouth” about a train journey from London to Cornwall with the weary character of the song glimpsing half-truths in his window’s reflection (and the closest you might hear Ninebarrow being sombre). There is also the exceptionally well known song of “Hey John Barleycorn” that in it’s barley goodness is like a smooth amber ale as it reaches the back of your throat. Barley is natural but the feeling has always seemed to us to be about nature personified instead of the observed murmurations in the skies. The strongest diversion from the nature theme however has to go to track 3, “Under the Fence”. Inspired by a documentary of the detainment camps in Calais, the song is a pretty strong blow to the heart. Quite haunting, but not too bleak in delivery,“But the girl still dreams of friends and school. But life is harsh and fate is cruel”, it reminds somewhat of Tori Amos’ “Past the Mission”. It’s latter piano presence is noticeably penetrating and a reminder that Ninebarrow can sing folk songs outright, or they can adapt them to a more contemporary singer-songwriter vibe without much difficulty. Either way it is an engaging number, a flip of expectations and probably one of the best songs on the disc.  

Ninebarrow, photographed in Dorset, October 2020 by Greg Funnell.

So we come to the summary.

In its dedication to warm, clear lyrics and message the album’s peacefulness goes for the jugular. Ninebarrow continue to expand their catalogue of nature folk in a way which encapsulates the “everyman” enjoyment and quietness of their surroundings. They are not the tsunami that rages upon the land, they are the ripple of a koi biting the surface of the water or a hummingbird effortlessly hovering in place. The mellow sound of Ninebarrow is quite fetching, the pair continue to write a good selection of songs from their source material and this album has the potential to transport their message far and wide. We recommend a purchase for that drive down the Dorset coast, the Peak District or any other part of nature’s gift to open the mind a little to the experience.

As often is the case, “A Pocketful of Acorns” is available from several stockists, though we always recommend purchasing from the artist directly if possible. 

In this instance please go to https://www.ninebarrow.co.uk/shopping

If you want a further taster of the album, please watch the below video.

Categories
Album/EP Reviews Folk Music Gentle Nature Folk Scots Vitality

Jenny Sturgeon – The Living Mountain (review)

An album indistinguishable from the nature it is set in, Sturgeon’s expertise ensures a multi-layered, emotional linchpin of folk

Now even deeper into the cold of Winter, we come to ponder Jenny Sturgeon’s latest work “The Living Mountain” originally released on 16 October 2020. Sturgeon’s first album “From the Skein” was an enjoyable and accomplished work exploring myth, humanity and nature which seriously tickled our fancy back in 2016. Now she is back from the heat of that debut, not so much with a left-turn but rather a wonderful refocus of energies. Jenny Sturgeon’s second solo album “The Living Mountain” is a project that somehow sees both the grand scheme of the living world on it’s canvas as well as being a focused lens examining nature’s fundamental parts.

The CD is methodical in it’s examination of themes in such a way that sets itself apart from the more human myth-centred works of her first album. The reason for this is that it is highly inspired by nature writer Nan Sheperd’s book “The Living Mountain”.  Like a matroyshka doll, the album moves from grand vistas of “the plateau” to the more intricate workings of nature such as “birds, animals, insects” before venturing inward to “man” and later “being”, each piece seemingly fitting in another and becoming grander. Sturgeon walks the chapter structure of the written form and brings her interpretations of each to the CD. Growing up in the Cairngorms and her own academic background (PhD in seabird ecology) mean that there is a perfect marriage of the emotional and intellectual bridge that gives the album a legitimacy of its own as an informed perspective. 

We start this journey wide and far with Sturgeon’s first track “The Plateau”. The instrumentation is a sweeping, embracing gale that has the characteristic of the natural world; Sturgeon’s vocals are cool to the touch and the lyrics are poetic. Rising like water vapour it then drops gently like a spinning, winnowing feather from it’s solitary downy nest as it transitions to the second track. Here the album commits confidently evoking nature metaphors with you “taken downstream.. Propelling forward” both in the physical and mental. The track feels like snapshots of a raw, primal comfort as Sturgeon’s voice calls from the warming harmonium and blankets the listener in a peaceful embrace that reaches outwards.

Throughout the album the percussion, sounds of nature and vocals embrace like grass snakes in the long lawn. For ourselves it stirs a memory of the excellent audio design and layering of the natural world in Lisa Knapp’s “Till April is Dead: A Garland of May”, but to that album’s light and renewal, this is an Autumn gathering of firewood as a dark season counterpoint which excites the senses.  “Frost and Snow” is a good indicator of this with it’s sounds of ice bobbing in water and ice cracking in sheets. Thoroughly cool, Knapp’s voice is a reverberating polar vortex moving through the land and searing the tree branches. Incredibly important, Surgeon’s work whispers tales from our natural selves, seemingly from within the chill of our bones themselves.

The album does take some detours from these broad characterisations we attribute too. Brushes of heat delightfully touch the face in “Air and Light”, for example, a guitar led joy that feels like the sun reaching around your bedroom door awakening you to the day ahead. “The Plants” is another bright number with an earthy, spiritual vibe that is a shared, positive energy as the song proclaims “we are of the sun”. You can picture the sprouting green shoots clumped together, reaching upwards and being at one with the solar rays. “The Senses” is a track which feels like a bow that has tied up all the joys of walking, climbing and being with nature that Sturgeon has touched on on the album and presented it as that thoughtful, unexpected gift that you are given from an old friend.

“The Living Mountain” is an album that is steeped in examining the bonds of humanity and nature through Sturgeon’s own joyful experience making this a potent work of psycho-geography. The Highlands are clearly a cherished place in the singer’s heart, and through the immediacy of this album, we can share in this. Rarely do we come across an album that is so wind-bitingly sensory and quietly grand about the natural world. Credit must be given all round for the additional musicians who have performed as if emerging from the trees (Grant Anderson, Andy Bell, Mairi Campell, Su-a Lee, Jez Riley French), the field recordings that elevate this above a safer more conventional nature folk album (Magnus Robb & The Sound Approach) and Andy Bell (mixer/producer) who makes your safe warm indoors sound very much like the wild, beautiful majesty of the outdoors.

A great sensory experience, a peaceful living and breathing work this is an album whose a fire crackles and pops against the dark wonderful night and it is definitely worth your attention.

If you are interested in hearing more about this labour of love, you can head to buy the album here. Sturgeon has also delved deeper and involved several individuals from all different fields in the making of this project for “The Living Mountain Conversations”. You can check that out here too.

Categories
Album/EP Reviews Folk Music Gentle Nature Folk Political Vitality World

Lizabett Russo- “While I Sit and Watch This Tree” (album review)

Russo’s album is a brighter, more focused affair that lets the positive rays of growth bring more optimism to her delightfully individual music.

To Be Released: Late November 2020

Gathering her ideas from the characterful stream of her mind and hewing a sound from the knotty avant-garde folk tree, Lizabett Russo continues a work very much her own with more integration of her core ideas around nature, personal anxiety and politics. With “While I Sit and Watch This Tree” it also feels that Russo is letting the background sing as much as her own interesting, searching voice.

“While I Sit and Watch This Tree” sees Russo (classical guitar, charango) joined by the musicianship of Graeme Stephen (electric guitar, loops/effects, piano), Oene van Geel (cello, viola, percussion), Udo Dermadt (various percussion, clay pot). Interestingly, the album itself is being released by not-for-proft charity, “Last Night from Glasgow” which strives to provide artists, “fair remuneration for their work” and is funded by patrons. They have some enticing options for supporters and if this piques the reader’s interest, is well worth a look at, (https://www.lastnightfromglasgow.com/).

Lizabett Russo is a Romanian-born (now Scotland-settled) artist with wide-ranging vocals that can swing around a point like a pencil in a metal compass, pleasantly drawing patterns only she can see. It has always seemed to us that Russo’s signature style could be how she musically captures the “meeting of her thoughts” within a song. The joy in this is when she begins with one idea there is often no certainty about where this will end up in terms of style, beat and genre. When these shifts happen her ideas clash in a great auditory drama and the song becomes something else altogether; jazz moves to folk, to expansive poetry and far beyond. Therefore, it is rare that Russo’s music is a steady-paced jog in the countryside, it is more akin to orienteering upon a craggy rock face with various dashing and walking speeds, the wonder of finding the puzzle, and wading through water while the sun bakes your muddy jersey.

“While I Sit and Watch This Tree” continues this stylistic motif in parts (and Russo’s great voice endures) but this time there feels more like a greater continuity to the tracks and it’s cognitive, political and natural folk music is layered around a vision which is more optimistic, and probably less mystifying than her previous works. What do we feel about the songs?

“Two Hands Together” is the musical fusion of a union rally call stretched across the drums of a shamanistic greeting. The song asks for the listener to  “get up and fight, get up and see what is there to see beyond the horizon” as it calls the “brother” and “sister” to action. The hands clap and the spirit of rebellion splashes up onto the jungle raft as it moves along. It is a song about the destruction of the rainforest in Ecuadar,and in character it feels much like the protest is coming from “within”the trees and the cultures of the area. Atmospheric and spiritual, it appeals to the senses with it’s peaceful yet pleading message.  

The track “I Was Young When I Left Home”, is as nostalgic and delicately skipping a track as you might find from the young artist. It’s a moody assortment of piano and jingly percussion which begins like the building bustle of an Alpaca textile stall in the morning. As it starts the track’s colours glow and Russo’s ideas firmly greet each other in a busy kind of joy. By the second half, it is a track that has ascended like red vapour from a heavenly candle, flickering for a moment in the mind. It seems to play like a contrast between her life now and from her past. Russo paints not an unhappy picture of her youth, but with the contrasting styles of the track you wonder if she considers her current creative life akin to spiritual enlightenment, as she has noted previously that music is not considered a profession in Romania and more a “hobby”. Whatever it’s intention, the song presents two distinct and interesting sides of Russo’s character.

“Depending” is a song like an anagogic spray of glitter and lights crackling in the heavy, damp air. It starts brimming with Russo’s echoing vocals portraying a contented inner voice with some solid, earthy strings backing this up. Much like Heraclitis’ famous wisdom, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Russo explores virtue and time within one of her more simply structured songs on the disc. With a clear message and voice that sounds like it hovers over swarms of heady springtime bees. It is a nice entry among many.

Photograph by: Vicki Rose Evans. https://en-gb.facebook.com/VickiEvansPhotography/

Russo’s cover (her only one here) of “The Water is Wide” is also a welcome addition. Russo takes on a folkier track than usual and the results are a song of easy listening that sings lightly of transformation and joy. Voice and lyrics are still front and centre, but unlike other versions (such as Karla Bonoff’s) it has both a stronger world feel, and both instrumentation (particularly the charango) and composition are more wedded to the elements of Nu-Folk. Russo gives us two co-existing ideas; one is her future character singing with a care-free confidence of a dilettante as she looks back at her migration. The second is the content of the song which hints at past Russo’s worries about impending travel and starting a new life. It is a cheerful affair though and a worthwhile cover.

So with the latest offering from Lizabett Russo we get a sunny, idea-filled exploration of Russo’s own beliefs and history. Her music reminds of the art of Scott Maismithi with it’s sharp, bright colours showing the natural landscape like a musician’s heart and soul in bloom. Moreso, it shows that Russo has much more to say about her life as well as ways to say it.

As the fourth album of Russo’s catalogue, it is possibly the most joyfully introspective but also a perfect starting place for those new to her works so we recommend that you check it out.

For details of purchasing her album, have a look at Lizabett’s website here, https://lizabettrusso.bigcartel.com/

Here is a preview of the album on Youtube:

Russo’s live stream of her album launch is taking place on YouTube on 27th November, check it out here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifPfprFRKKY

Categories
Album/EP Reviews British Debut European Folk Music Nature Folk Traditional

The Wilderness Yet – Debut Album Review

Their ears and hearts nested in the traditional, ‘The Wilderness Yet’ provide an album with many brilliant, emotional responses to nature.

Away from the bustle, in a secret garden within the leafy settlement of Sheffield, we get the glimpse of a band bringing their debut to the fore. 

“The Wilderness Yet” comprises of Rowan Piggott (fiddle), Phillippe Barnes (guitar/flute) and Rosie Hodgson (vocals), a trio of South Yorkshire folk artists entering the “wilderness” that is a folk world full of surprises and joys; they are accompanied on tracks by guest musicians Ewan Carson (bodhran), Charlie Piggott (button accordion) and Johnny Ringo (bodhran). The result is a swirling, strong entry into the genre that plays a hand of cards that will suit long time enthusiasts with it’s traditional leanings, but also excite by keeping some new songs up their sleeve.   

What goes a good way towards the atmosphere of the disc (that helps carry it along) is the artwork, which we have to start by praising. The artist Adam Oehlers (http://www.adamoehlersillustration.com/) brings together animal and tree in a beautiful, coppery unity. At this time of year in particular the golden hues of the leaves, the branches and grasses (with laws unto themselves) and the wondrous spectacle of the inside illustration are calling to the wild, calling to the intricate system of nature. When you pick up the disc, it is a sensory, auspicious start.

This scene setter leads into the light dance and explicit harkening to the season in the first track “The Beauties of Autumn”. Inspired by a walk outside Halsway Manor (definitely a semi-wild spectacle) in the early morning, the track feels like the crinkles around your wellies during an unexpected dry spell. Quietly celebratory it marks the beginning of the album with it’s positive, warm and fresh sound.

Speaking of warm beginnings, “In a fair country” is a sweet, fruity medley of blackcurrant and apple in a rich chutney that could be part of of an oaty breakfast. Sang traditionally and with a chirpy harmony, it is a good track that lends to your ears it’s familiarity in structure and character. We mention fruit as Hodgson’s voice reminds of gooseberries, a hint of sharpness that tingles the soggy tart pastry. It all works well and there is a good mingle with Piggott and Barnes’ who lay a deeper, essential mossy covering to the track. As a song which laments for the loss of trees it is close to our heart (particularly with the previous years’ battles around tree felling in the Steel City).

It is definitely an album which looks to the natural path. Queen and Country is a nice little ditty (and named pun) with its theme of pride, bees and the parallels with the commitment to the cause. Previously part of a collection from EFDSS about bees in 2018 (www.songhive.co.uk) this is very welcome here. A joyful song combining a humble self-appreciation and joy in one’s place (as the subject refers to themselves as a labourer), it is like a mug of tea as the Summer winds out, an understated comfort that is universal. 

We love the lower, heavier notes that precede the group’s cover of Bogle’s “Song of the Whale”, a song about the beguilement of fisherman at the sound of the humpback 200 years ago. Adding a dynamism and rumble to the entrance is a nice contrast to the lighter lyrics. Stripping out the prominence of the original’s guitar for a nautically-turned viola d’amore and flute is a good choice as it  brings more otherworldliness to the song. As a sailor you might think that the sound has come through the veil of the world itself.

Another fine song that errs towards the darker is “Of Men Who’ll Never Know”. Calling towards the darkening of the world there is a beautiful expected starkness and stillness to this Swedish Love Song.  Mournful and disarming, the bleak end of things comes and with the gentle rattle of the accompanying instruments. For an album with is mostly light and springy, it is an unexpected diversion which adds a grim ink to this chapter of the album (but is none the worse for it).

Artwork by Adam Oehlers http://www.adamoehlersillustration.com/

Overall, “The Wilderness Yet” is a fine album themed around nature and people’s experiences of it be it quiet joy, strange wonder, fearfulness or  a merry dance alongside. The a cappella numbers are stirring, the original tracks clever and the inclusion of Scandi music is a very good one. Together as a package of theme, music, song and art it is as one. Well mixed (Piggott) and mastered (Sam Proctor), the album finds the right places to shine it’s spotlight be it the vocals, the gentle tap of the bodhran or the bright fiddle. It is rooted quite nicely in the the traditional form and has some lovely original additions to it’s body, like a shapely orchid emerging from rainforest bark.

If you would like to purchase or find more information on the band, go to www.thewildernessyet.com and check out this video below.

Categories
Album/EP Reviews Folk Music Nature Folk

Oka Vanga -Dance of the Copper Trail – An Album Review

Hot on the heels of their previous entry “Tales from Eyam” the latest album from the acoustic duo, Oka Vanga, has arrived. In fact it arrived 31 March but let us not dwell on the time that has passed. As Spring has undoubtedly turned to Autumn with the hints of amber leaves blowing in delightful spirals, what better time is there to review an album of orange and earthy brown? Let us head in and maybe grab a bourbon for the journey while we do. First of all, who are Oka Vanga?

Oka Vanga is made up of Angela Meyer (Vocals, Guitar) and William Cox (Guitar, Ukele, Mandolin) with some input here from Oliver Copeland (Double Bass), Patsy Reid (Violin), and Mark Tucker (Percussion). Angie hails from South Africa; she met the other half of the duo, Will in London at an open mic, and since then they spin some delightful mixes of history and folklore. This is certainly the case with their latest disc, “Dance of the Copper Trail” which also channels both individuals’ love of travel. While the tracks together do not follow a linear story as you might imagine from point A to B on a map, the ideas and subjects combine into an accomplished sensory experience from history which in a way is better, it leaves more to the imagination and personal perspective. The fantastic guiding star of the double bass on the CD brings the veritable bounce of travel you might picture from the Wild West and also opens up the excitement of discovery, much like a child at the sight of a big crimson bonfire and fireworks. The wheels of this old wagon are indeed spinning on their way and as they do the sun is shining on their mahogany hue.

One of the defining factors of Oka Vanga’s previous work, the “Tales from Eyam” EP was an evident well-disciplined approach from track to track. On the disc we saw a creative and thoughtful work as a story about two people in the famous plague village from history, Eyam fall in love and then part with a beautiful yet sad tone. All-in-all it was not a disc for wandering; instead it was like a greyhound chasing the rabbit, it’s eyes were fixed on the prize. In doing so it felt like Oka Vanga either through design or just consistent writing, knew what they were singing about and stuck to it with determination. It was a kind methodical, thorough determination to telling a story and doing a good job of it. “The Dance of the Copper Trail” does much the same except there are more tracks for them to play with; so what we get is tightly, knit professional feel that expands with the extra space. It does indeed touch on the senses and imaginations of what the stories of the “Copper Trail” could in fact be, you get a big sense of the craft at work here. I liked “Tales from Eyam” it was an interesting piece; but the scope, delivery and writing on the new disc is even better, there are several opportunities to inhabit the idea of travel, the Old West and folktale.

I am keen to talk about the tracks and sound, but lets say something about the artwork. I love it. The browns are like rich grizzly leather and there are reds like vials of turmeric, rusting iron and the aforementioned scraps of copper being forged into tools. The cover has the iconography of a boat, a bear and the sun, it looks very much like a storybook; it is incredibly cool. Credit to Coildesign.net who have surpassed what you would reasonably expect for an album cover, it all helps create the environment which Oka Vanga are looking to share, and it is the first step on the dance they are choreographing.

The opening track, “The Wicken Tree” starts as a mildly mystical expedition into the Rowan Tree and it’s place in myth and history. It ponders, Angie’s voice reverberates, the fiddle seems to lurk in the shadow a little  til the final third; it all works very nicely. Not bombastic and overtly energetic as an opener, but the Double Bass hints at the positive vibes to come. It is slightly shamanistic, there is myth at work as the lyrics entangle our irrational fears and those of our ancestors. I like the exploration of the track and way that it sets the scene. Another track where it seems the song skims the reeds of the mind is the deep, winding and rather spiritual apex of mandolin and tremolo guitar in “Song of the River.” Here Angela Meyer’s voice hearkens, speaks into the black stillness of the Deep South and stirs the surface magic. The wonder you expect is at every turn, and this is further enhanced but the particularly nice mandolin on this track, this should definitely be an inclusion to keep for future works.

It’s not all in the mind though. In fact the album feels very earthy and physical. The joy of nature and the world is really let lose on track 2, “Capercaillie” which kicks it up as a joyous, old-time song about a bird that sometimes sounds likes a horse.  Much like the grouse of the song title, the duo are “flying low in the sun” with this song. Shades of sunshine and the playful side to nature come to the fore, it is smiles all-round. It has the strength of familiarity, a good looping structure and a fun subject matter. It is the kind of track you might expect your young child to like the most from an album, but just treating it is as a song of this level belies that there is some delicate and speedy mandolin at work, and a great warm, universal appeal at work.

For myself, “The Devil Inside” is the standout track on the album. From the opening you might not be sure what is about with it’s mellow enticing work, but like a flash this gives way to a more urgent, celerity with a doom-telling voice, evocative fiddle and omnipresent double bass. It is a track about a semi-mythical female pirate, and as you listen this becomes more and more apparent with it’s talk of the “seas” and the “wind.” You can almost see the shark on the horizon. Even with the sea aspect put to the side, it still feels like a timeworn story from the Americas, and be equally considered a dust-bowl allegory of faith. What we get is a woman with sass who turned heads, knew her mind and possibly broke a few hearts with her flintlock pistol along the way. It is a warning to those good, law-abiding 17th Century sailors but also a bit of a motivational work, “40 years you’ve waited.. to be Captain of the Seas” that tells us that  hard work and perseverance pays off. It is actually quite a venerating little ditty which generates awe and power in a woman I previously knew nothing about, and is a joy across the board.

 

Mentions should also be made for “Out of the Fire” that deals with the main singer’s transitions of thought, the acceptance of stepping back, and returning to music-making that feels as in place as everything else on the album. The final track, a version of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s gospel song, “This Train” is a lovely bookend to an album bulging with auburn wonder and surely a great crowd-pleaser wherever Oka Vanga goes.

There is variety, yet it all ties in nicely. More importantly there is a spirit of optimism that runs through the disc. Much like the gold panning miner who finds a nugget, the authors of this work have taken an entrepreneurial approach and taken a gamble. Well it has paid off and the result we have is an incredibly listenable album that is tightly managed and has a pretty rich, consistent sound that could not conceptually fit it’s theme any more than it does, it’s great.  Mystical, magical and earthy it’s feet are firmly planted on the ground and it’s taking us on a trail of discovery.

Here is to the road!

If you would like to listen to some samples and find some more information, go to Oka Vanga’s website here where their album is available.

Also, take a listen to this sample below, taken from Oka Vanga at the Village Folk room from Derby Folk Festival 2017!

https://youtu.be/wWpib02j3QM

 

 

Categories
Album/EP Reviews Debut Folk Music Nature Folk

Elfin Bow – A Debut Album Review

Elfin Bow – (Elfin Bow)

Elfin Bow Music

Recorded at: Hound Dog Studios, Liverpool

www.elfinbow.co.uk

Released 18th March 2017

 

Elfin Bow is very much the ringmaster in this positively creative and interesting debut that takes the best elements of her musical inspirations and fuses them with the mysteries and wonders of folk music.

 

Elizabeth Anne Jones aka Elfin Bow has arrived. Wherever she has been waiting, she comes from with a musical sound  from parts of the 70s I see and hear when I consider a decade I was not a present in. I think of the joy, love and colourful air  filled with the scent of sweet flowers; Bow’s debut has this kind of energy and intention. It can be seen from the get-go with Bow’s characterful album cover art which she has creating, and on it herself as a larger than life character. The instant impression is something rather Lewis Carroll-ish from the portrait on the cover pointing to a surreal content inside, especially with the clock motif. While I wouldn’t strictly categorise the album as “surreal”, it it anything but drab and the artwork is quite lovely.

This is not to say that Bow’s debut album is all blue lagoons and influences from the age of flares, for there is a depth of thought to be found running through; quite a fresh and original one really. Indeed these waters harbour a shark or two inside the lyrical structures, and persistent instrument arrangement, Gary Edward Jones’ production and Gary Lloyd’s mix makes some excellent choices throughout. Rather than going straight for the jugular of folk convention, it walks the tightrope that is between accessibility and deep folk themes; there is a lot to like on both counts. It is not full on psychedelia, but the songs within have a flourishing of consciousness and bright shades, it romps through with the content with a giving it a confident, contemporary edge. Her particular sound might be due to how she describes as a “strict upbringing” in regards to the music she was allowed to listen to. It was only more recently she managed to hear and be influenced by PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, and Bjork. The kind of spectacle and slightly flamboyant character building she has taken on  herself in the album does remind of the flame haired pianist herself with the  direct, self-believing songs on the disc. In fact, at times there are passing nods to Fiona Apple also.

With such comparisons, the big question might be, “Is it folk?”

Yes, it is indeed. There are many elements of the folk tradition brought in, be it the seasonal “First Red Leaf of Autumn” or “Daffadilly Down”, the menace of “Grimshaw and the Fingerclaw” and “Holler in the Hollows,” or the banjo-love on “Prarie Madness.” It is just not all one thing and one thing only, there are singer-songwriter elements to the presentation but if you are a person who holds your genre dear in a singular way there isn’t much to fear by getting this. The reason is that this is not an album of piano cabaret or post-ironic, experimental work, these styles couldn’t be further from Bow’s consideration. Instead it seasons folk music and folk music topics with these influences like mozzarella on your restaurant pizza; the album ends up partly straddling magic and folklore, and also a celebration of the natural world.

For example, “The First Red Leaf of Autumn“ opens within the context of a relationship with reference to the seasons. Bow almost seems like the subject of the song here. She writes with a keen eye, rather than falling into the musical rut of being surprised about how people and feeling changes she sings with an enthusiasm for change and opportunity (mirroring her enthusiasm for this debut maybe?). Optimistic and indicative of an artist drawing inspiration, it is a nice opener, a subtle and enigmatic note to start.

“Grimshaw and the Fingerclaw” with it’s darker bass (Oscar South) running alongside a slightly nautical pacing and shanty structuring is an exceptional addition. The mandolin and percussion gives it a rather adventurous feel. It casts images of shady brothels, misdeeds, dark stout and Chinese dragons as it paints a picture of urban shadow and inviting further examination. Spending much time showcasing the fantastic cymbal crashing, weaving soundscape and evocative flute (Victoria Wasley) as it does; credit should also be given for the wonder-baiting and silken voice of the lead. The quality of the mixing with the vocal harmonies is superb, it might take you a while to fully grasp it’s intricacies as you follow the strong melody but there is so much fun to be had listening carefully and making sense of this number. It is like a flint sparking the mind, and the sparks are the wonder spraying outward.

“Edith’s Song” follows the previous track (it directly references the characters) but takes things out of the urban and into a kind of monologue being sung by the central witch character. It is one of the best songs on the album, not just because I am a fan of witch songs. It starts off with a kind of ambience that could go a number of ways, like a nameless spell it isn’t obvious at first how the song will take shape. The guitars tease that it could be more of a blues track or a gloomy instrumental; throughout there is a low hum that waits like an owl about to dive for prey. It then moves from a stirring introduction; the drums beat a sweet beat (Daniel Logan) and the wind blows (Saydyko Fedorova) as it takes flight. Bow’s voice once again reaches out and this track is a fine example of the observations about nature she makes on her debut work as she ropes in this imagery. Truly a gem of nature folk with it’s lyrics, “call me a flower on the water with pebbles that float in the rain” it is a heady mix of mystical vocals with a penetrating quality like an Arctic Wind.

There are a few other musical stops that are made,“The Wisdom”  (which has recently been released as a single) is more of a self-healing, encouraging simplicity in thought about making one’s own mind up about things, “He preached the word of God in the market, but I didn’t hear it, it left me cold”. Cold in word but not especially in sound, the strings sound particularly warm here and a certain fragility is wrought from the material with the singer’s voice. This track certainly has wide appeal, there is a thin veneer of acoustic pop and indie folk here too as the trumpet keeps it’s company in the corner. Not quite as “showboating” as it does in much indie folk, it is quite an asset in Charles Sweeney’s performance fitting nicely along the lyrics and meshing together pleasingly. There is also “Hey Auld Friend” a find of shamanistic, urban folk-rap that reminds me a little of the musical opening to “The Affair” (Container). I say shamanistic but maybe humanistic is a better description. A bit of a bluesy protest it eschews religion and places quick-stepped and varied vocals to honour the memory of others. Among the guitar and wider instruments there is a certain satisfaction in viewing the world through the natural prism of the album,  “I wasn’t fashioned from the bone of a man, and I’m content to be erased by the sea and the sand.”

Mention must be made for the final track for “Prairie Madness” is just a joy to behold. Whatever you read into the mixed light/darkness, introspective/moral parts of the album, there is little ambiguity in its closing call with old time number about waiting for a father to return, “his cart is green and yellow and his horse is mottled grey.” There is reference to clapping, there is clapping and banjo (Jamie Francis) makes an appearance cheering as the song bounces along. One might remark that the song doesn’t really fit but it goes out on a high note, and if ever there was a song that stirs memories of Charles Ingles (Michael Langdon), then this does it. Very jolly, worth a listen.

Spoilt for choice on an agile album that seems like a project borne from a hard-earned happy place, it is a very good debut indeed. I say this with compliment as often people consider that misery and depression are your best bedfellows when writing music, this is proof that this is not always the case. You can almost hear the snapping of jungle vines as Bow escapes the uncreative clutches of teaching and throws herself at any musical resistance like hot knife through butter. Having brought the best sensibilities of her musical inspirations and the positive, engaging vibe of earlier decades we see demonstration of her energy is like a serpent, quite playful, dark in places and full of conviction. It is with great pleasure I recommend Elfin Bow’s debut.

You can buy the Elfin Bow album here: http://www.elfinbow.com/shop