I’ve known Anne Lister for so long that I can’t remember when and where we first met. There was a certain festival and a certain band….no, that’s another story. Anne is best known for he song ‘Icarus’ but, unlike her tragic hero she has stayed mostly under the radar. Recent years have been spent in the groves of academe gaining a Ph.D from Cardiff University with a thesis on the story of an Arthurian knight that’s far too complicated to go into here. Add to that working on a novel and further developing her story-telling career. Astrolabe is themed around place and time and mixes some vintage songs with new compositions.
The opening title track is something of an overture, definitely a bit radio-friendly, but then the gloves come off. ‘Wolf Moon’ with shruti and chimes explains that there really are no reasons from out there for shit happening and ‘Small Ways To Beat The Devil’ points to the real culprits. Do I need to list the dramatis personae? I don’t think so, although Greta Thunberg has a starring role as the heroine. It’s terrific song.
It’s not all fire and brimstone, though. ‘Vindolanda’ is an historical love song inspired by a small golden ring now in a museum but at the same time Anne contemplates her own wedding ring – her husband Steve designed the album cover and sings backing vocals. And while I’m on the subject Anne has pulled in some friends to support her including her partner in Anonyma, Mary McLaughlin, Mike O’Connor and his musical partner Barbara Griggs, Matt Crum and Steafan Hannigan with Dylan Fowler among the roll-call of engineers.
Next, Anne melds the traditional ’10,000 Miles’ with her own song ‘Heroes’. Sung a cappella it is a perfect mix of place and time steeped in nostalgia; a feeling echoed in ‘Llanwenarth’ with its list of soothing herbs and meadow flowers. ‘Summerlands’ is a surprisingly up-tempo meditation on mortality while ‘Grandmother And The Wolf’ dispenses age-old wisdom – or does it? – and Grandma reappears in ‘Photograph’. I do like the way Anne leads us through the themes of the album and, at this point, without losing the thread she changes the mood with ‘Mametz’, a reference to a major incident of the Battle of the Somme.
Anne’s voice and guitar are kept well to the fore, as they should be, but when power is needed fiddle and accordion are on hand. There is so much to enjoy here and it really is good to have Anne back with her music.
Artist’s website: https://www.annelister.com/
‘Vindolanda’ – live: