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.
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).
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.
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 akaElfin 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.