PAUL SEXTON scours the new releases to find there’s nowt so prog as folk.
Karine Polwart renewed her already peerless credentials earlier this year with her sixth BBC Radio 2 Folk Award, as Folk Singer Of The Year. Laws Of Motion (Hudson) is a speedy follow-up to 2017’s lauded A Pocket Of Wind Resistance, and The Guardian’s description of that project as an “epic, emotional endeavour” could happily do service again here. Much of the material on Polwart’s seventh release is of a traditional hue, but her approach is so fearless and, often, socio-political that the effect is daringly cutting-edge.
After an acoustic opening for Ophelia (a mood that returns on the comely Cornerstone and others) comes a modernistic turn on the title song, one of those written with Midlothian neighbour Martin Green. Polwart’s studio partners throughout are brother Steven on guitars and vocals and Inge Thomson on accordion, synths and more. Holocaust survival and migration are contemplated, as is a certain supposed leader of the free world with his “disregard for truth and appetite for lies” on the deliciously disparaging I Burn But
I Am Not Consumed. Lionhearted work, start to finish.
From Wellington, New Zealand come the singular Orchestra Of Spheres, whose double album Mirror (Fire) is an ethereal sonic soup. Elements of psychedelia, avant garde jazz and classical instrumentation abound on a fourth release of often bonkers eclecticism.
Meanwhile, clucking chickens and fiddle rock finery introduce Tentation
(La Pruche Libre) from Canada’s Yves Lambert Trio. It finds veteran Lambert, much respected on the Québécois traditional scene as founder of both La Bottine Souriante and the Bébert Orchestra, forging ahead with a trio sound illustrated by his accordions and, especially, Tommy Gauthier’s fine fiddling.
Eight years on from their debut, female trio Mountain Man return with Magic Ship (Bella Union), a new platform for the vocal interplay shared by Amelia Meath, Alexandra SauserMonnig and Molly Sarlé since college days in Vermont. Instrumentation is barely more than restrained acoustic guitar, as on Baby Where You Are, and, often, not even that, so the canvas for their delicate harmonies is broad.
Darren Hayman offers the third volume in his remarkable Thankful Villages series (Belka), widely hailed for its collage of untold stories gathered in those 54 small settlements where every soldier returned alive from the Great War. Hayman has visited every single one, in a laudable endeavour for which he has created a sound recording, a painting and a film for each. Where churches and rivers were his previous themes, he now addresses the younger generation, with gripping actuality and bucolic accompaniment stretching from Hunstanworth to Helperthorpe. Speaking of the younger generation, Kelly Oliver continues to represent it with elegant authenticity on her self-released Botany Bay. It’s another vehicle for her vocal dexterity and page-turning tales of bold fishermen, dark-eyed sailors and the like.