“Delightfully dark” is how I’d describe Neighbours And Sisters, the second album by Brighton collective, Bird In The Belly. I haven’t yet heard their debut, The Crowing, but I expect to rectify that very soon. The group comprises Laura Ward and Adam Ronchetti, aka Hickory Signals, multi-instrumentalist Tom Pryor who also produced and Jinnwoo or Ben Webb as I believe we can now begin to call him. If you’ve heard Jinnwoo before you’ll know he has a voice like no other and Laura has one of the few female voices that can stand with him. Put them together and the result is quite remarkable.
Most of the songs are, or were, traditional. Ward and Jinnwoo each wrote one and another comes from a Great War song. I say “were” because the titles have been changed, new music has been written, and the words adapted from the original sources. But it doesn’t matter. These songs have been disinterred from manuscripts in library stacks and give a new lease of life.
The album opens with doom-laden drones: a combination of Adam’s shruti and Tom’s organ at a guess, before Laura’s voice comes in. The song, called ‘Robin And Starling’ by Bird In The Belly was originally a Victorian ballad and the new arrangement maintains the right feel. Other songs encompass death, rape, prostitution, execution and homosexuality so ‘Robin And Starling’ is just about the most upbeat track in the set. Actually, Laura’s song ‘Bees’, enumerating superstitions surrounding beekeeper, is mostly uplifting except for the bit about cutting off butterflies’ heads. The other original song, which closes the set, is Jinnwoo’s ’45 George Street’, about the last two men to be executed for sodomy in this country.
The arrangements succeed in being spare and complex at the same time with Laura’s flute and Tom’s violin providing the principal decoration. That said, they can build up a big sound as they do on ‘New Gate Stone’. I really like Neighbours And Sisters: it appeals to my temperament.
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‘Robin And Starling’ – official video: