The Irish folk singer’s third album fills out her sound to incorporate elements of jazz, country rock, slowcore, and psychedelia.
Brigid Mae Power’s music never quite settles on solid ground. The Irish singer-songwriter flits between past and present; between traditional and modern forms; between the heaven in her voice and the earthbound epiphanies of her words. Her last album was called The Two Worlds. I’d say she inhabits a few more than that.
Power emerged from Galway’s bohemian scene, experimenting with the parameters of traditional music in unlit car parks and remote churches. Until now, the echo of open spaces has been a defining feature of her music, her intimate songs bolstered by cavernous reverb and drone. Those textures are less prominent on her third album. Recorded in Glasgow in three days with a band assembled by Scottish contemporary folkie Alasdair Roberts, who co-produced alongside Power and her husband Peter Broderick, Head Above the Water fills out her sound with a broader sweep of instrumentation. There is room for the bodhran, fiddle, and bouzouki, but also the synthesizer, Shruti box, drums, and electric guitar. Roberts encourages a more adventurous spirit to enter the proceedings. Though still rooted in folk—there’s a stunning cover of the traditional ballad “The Blacksmith”—the 10 songs blend elements of jazz, country rock, slowcore, and psychedelia.
Occasionally, the music has real bite, as on the snaking, sinister “I Was Named After You.” More typically, the songs amble dreamily toward their destination, as though following an ancient map on which the coordinates have begun to fade. On “Wedding of a Friend” and “You Have a Quiet Power,” buffeted by cross breezes of pedal steel and Mellotron, Power sounds like she’s fronting a slightly woollier Mazzy Star. “On a City Night” recalls the giddy joie de vivre of some of the lighter moments on Bob Dylan and The Band’s Basement Tapes.
While I’m ashamed to confess I wasn’t aware of Lincolnshire born singer Elle Osborne until the release of her almost wholly self-penned It’s Not Your Gold Shall Me Entice, its cover featuring her grandmother, who gave The Watersons their first club bookings, getting stuck into a festival drinking contest and underlining Osborne’s pedigree.
I was instantly hooked and have been eagerly awaiting this follow-up. Produced by Stereolab’s Joe Watson, it sports an intriguing title, apparently deriving from an observation made by her father and forming part of the lyric to the opening track, Birds of the British Isles.
The number makes references to knowing “the heft of heron and the light of blackbird calls” but not the country’s entire ornithological spectrum as a springboard for deeper concerns. She sings “I know what to say to people when they pick on you / And I’ve almost learnt to greet the haters with loving smiles”. Like many of her songs, she has knack of catching you offguard.
Alasdair Roberts reprises his guest appearance from last time around on harmonies, the album also featuring contributions from Alice Mary on guitar and bass and both Alex Neilson (who’s hailed her voice as a cross between Lal Waterson and Nico) and Stephen Hiscock on drums.
“You can actually reinvent yourself in America, step off the plane, say ‘my name is whatever,’” says Teddy Thompson. Speaking more about New York City,
“You can actually reinvent yourself in America, step off the plane, say ‘my name is whatever,’” says Teddy Thompson. Speaking more about New York City, where the singer-songwriter has lived since moving there as a teen with his parents British folks singers Linda and Richard Thompson, the city also helped him fuse together his sixth studio album Heartbreaker Please (Thirty Tigers), out May 8, as he’s dissecting his own heartbreak, unraveling a portion of it on the album’s title track. Continue reading →
Some of Scotland’s finest musicians step up to interpret the work of the late, great Ivor Cutler, and his witty ditties retain an all-ages appeal, writes Fiona Shepherd
Ivor Cutler was a true one-off. The Glasgow-born surrealist, storyteller and sage may have been the epitome of the outsider artist but his witty ditties retain an all-ages appeal.
Which is probably why the quartet of musicians at the core of this tribute album – Citizen Bravo’s Matt Brennan, Raymond MacDonald of Glasgow Improvisers’ Orchestra, guitarist Malcolm Benzie and Frightened Rabbit’s Andy Monaghan – had no difficulty in attracting a host of mostly Scottish musicians to the project, from practised storytellers such as Kris Drever to idiosyncratic stylists such as Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch.
The singular spirit of Cutler is evoked throughout Return to Y’Hup, not least in the use of Cutler’s own harmonium and the love and respect accorded to his writing across the board.
Cutler’s partner Phyllis King gives her implicit blessing with a recitation of Latitude and Longitude, while Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos, James Yorkston, BMX Bandits’ frontman Duglas T Stewart and Robert Wyatt apply their distinctive speaking voices to their respective nuggets of wry insight, which never outstay their welcome, only whetting the appetite for more. Continue reading →
This is art shorn of artifice, pop against populism, and it just so happens to be one of the defining statements of our times.
Richard Dawson’s new album is called 2020. Knowing what we do about the way Dawson’s unique songwriting brain works, it’s tempting to surmise that it’s going to be a near-future concept album about an England almost identical to our own, but with the weirdness and woe condensed in that forthright Dawsonian manner we’ve come to expect. And in a way this is true. The songs on 2020 describe the inner lives of normal individuals in a country on the cusp of something vaguely unpleasant, something black and looming that has just appeared over the horizon. Dawson’s songs alchemise widespread political and social anxieties into pinpoint vignettes; ostensibly mundane concerns are conjured into startling focus. Continue reading →