For her first album since 2019’s The Deafening Sounds Of Stars with HoboPop Kirsty McGee has joined forces with Gitika Partington, a singer-songwriter, composer and choral director with seven albums of her own for a musical apiary focused on nature themes and cycles of loss, death and rebirth. Sharing vocals with McGee on flutes and Partington on vocoder and recorder, All The Bees are joined by Andy McCrory-Shand on keys and guitars with double bass courtesy Lukas Drinkwater, it opens with the organ and piano-accompanied ‘Wildflowers’ setting an ethereal, pastoral mood evocative of Nick Drake that uses the titular imagery as a metaphor for personal female freedom and independence (“fragrant the meadowsweet/Its scent upon the breeze/(I shall love you if I want to I shall marry if I please…See the yarrow at the roadside with its many thousand leaves/(I shall wound every man but no man shall harm me”).
McGee’s past albums have been generally characterised by a cross-pollination of folk, blues and jazz while Partington’s are predominantly in a contemporary folk vein, so it’s a bit of a surprise to find so much of an Appalachian flavour here, making an early appearance on the banjo-flecked ‘King Crow’ (“All the other birds that fly/That swing their wings upon the sky/All the other birds below/They all pay duty to the crow”) which conjures what The Band might have been had they been fronted by Gillian Welch.
Backed with another ethereal sonic wash, contemplative piano notes and airy flute, ‘Down To The River’ again has an American folk undercurrent to its lyric of feeling downcast (“you wander/Like a breeze upon the meadow grass/ With a broken bag of stories/And a sorrow that you can’t surpass”) but of rising up again (“Little soul now don’t be sad/We’ll mend your broken heart with gold and silver/One day soon your heart will race/Out there with the dipper and the sun upon your face”) and the encouragement to “Take your stories back where they belong /Plant them in the air like seeds/When the birds fly they will take your song/And sing it from then highest tree”.
A river and rustic Americana also flow through the opening lines of ‘Dog Star’, “rippling and shimmering and coveting the starlight”, the title a reference to Sirius, the brightest in the night sky, the narrator here seemingly of the four-footed variety (“I follow on the shore feet of clay and muddy paw…through the rushes in the moonlight”) with the evocative imagery of “Marsh grass and dipper wings/Drifting slowly in her arms/Floating in the moss and leaves in a gauzy net of river flies” putting you in mind of Walt Whitman.
The reverie continues with the honeyed softly sung, piano-brushed ‘Dancer Caught Dreaming’, a beautiful snapshot of the song’s subject, “balanced like cranes on the scrubbed wooden floor”, being caught up in a private moment of almost transcendental euphoria (“Breathless, in sunlight, caught in mid air she leaps like a deer when there’s nobody there”), a butterfly on the wing.
Equally dreamy and breathily sung, ‘Petals’ is a piano lullaby love song of another quiet nature-wrought epiphany as the rain “amplifies the scent of all the flowers” and the belief of better days ahead as the literal and metaphorical clouds clear (“Something good is sure to come/If you only wait and see…We will wait and watch the skies renew”).
Although actually a yellow-billed cuckoo, the contemplative piano ballad ‘Storm Crow’ would seem to draw on the idea of the crow as a harbinger of a coming conflict, external or internal, noting how, in Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is referred to a Stormcrow, a “herald of woe”, a reading reinforced in the lines “There’s a little storm crow in us all/And did you ever wonder why/Even with the bluest sky/Even though the fields are dry/You crave the squall?” and that pessimism of “Wishing winter in the spring/Filling the day with night”.
In contrast, turning “the darkness into day”, ‘May Tide’ returns to lullabying (“Gentle arms, hold you tight/In the deep grateful night”) and images of water’s tranquility and rebirth (“Little one, softly sleep/On the ocean’s thrum/For the bluest deep/Beats the clearest drum/Little boat, sailing by/Carries cargo of sky/Takes the night far away”). And they remain in a marine mood for the mesmerising closing harmonies of ‘Stone From The Ocean’, a mountain music front porch hymnal hum calling to mind the McGarrigles and, the stone offering up a metaphysical metaphor, a bittersweet song of realisation (“You got to suffer thought the darkness/Before you see the light/Nothing ever became smooth without a fight”) and regret (“If I had my days again I’d love you more/All the pain all the hurt/With all the peace with all the war/I would love you til we die/Then I’d hold you deep inside”) as it closes with the heartbreaking “The stars are gone and the moon is on the wane/I’ll remember for us both/Because just one of us remains/All the bird song of forgotten summer days”.
A gorgeous album on which to draw the folk music year to a close, All The Bees should generate a real buzz.
Artists’ website: www.allthebees.co.uk
‘King Crow’ – official video:
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