CARRIE TREE – The Canoe (Own Label WCRCD05)

The CanoeBrighton singer/songwriter Carrie Tree’s third CD, The Canoe, due for release on the 26th April 2019, is a little more delicate and spiritual than anything I’ve reviewed recently, but certainly no worse for that. It addresses the themes of “birth, death, water, home and travel” in a style that is often allusive, poetic rather than literal, and never less than fascinating.

The production and arrangements come courtesy of Markus Sieber. Sieber is known for his ambient recordings (as Aukai), and besides the conventional (and beautifully arranged) array of piano, woodwind, strings and other instruments, there is plenty of use of less usual sounds (including ngoni, balafon, ronroco* and sitar) in the accompaniment. It all contributes to a hypnotic, peaceful and sometimes slightly Andean soundscape here, but don’t mistake its subtlety for aural wallpaper.

  1. I was slightly taken aback by the fact that the first few lines of ‘Sweet Illusion’ include the rhyme of ‘illusion’ and ‘confusion’ that others of my generation probably remember from a multitude of Holland-Dozier-Holland hits. However, this song comes from a very different place, and once past that little hiccough, presents as a sensitive and touching lyric, with a breathy delivery – sometimes lowered to a whisper – that will either charm or irritate you. I must admit, it’s grown on me considerably. (If it irritates you, give the other tracks a chance: they’re worth it. And it’s a very pretty melody.)
  2. ‘Honey Soup’ is described as being “about the body as a vessel, as a home in life.” Exquisitely sung, and fascinating instrumentation.
  3. ‘The Canoe’ is a moving song about birth. The last quatrain is taken from ‘Oak Song’ by Anna Richardson. I particularly like the vocal harmonies.
  4. ‘Human Kindness’ is somewhat grittier subject matter “Inspired by a man who told me his story / Of a war-torn homeland & a life he had to flea [sic]“. A pacier track with a powerful message: “I know that there’s more to thus ugly game“.
  5. ‘Only Love’ is a gentle song beginning with a vaguely blues-y guitar part, but moving into something more complex with accordion and pizzicato strings.
  6. ‘Deep As We Dare’ is notable not only for the passion of its lyric, but for some extraordinary vocal work.
  7. ‘Alive’ also has some adventurous vocal effects: I’m not sure I care for the scatting, but it’s another fine song.
  8. ‘Call To The Wind’ has a particularly attractive arrangement, framing a simple but moving song.
  9. ‘Red Clay Woman’, with its supernatural lyrical echoes, strikes me as something of an epic. Anyway, it’s probably my favourite track, with a complex arrangement and melodic twists and turns that follow the lyric rather than forcing it into a scansion-lined straitjacket.
  10. ‘Summertime’, by contrast, is almost a conventional song of love and loss, but is no less effective for that. A fine end to a remarkable album.

Carrie’s deceptively delicate voice displays a wide dynamic range and an intense higher register, and as the CD gathers pace, it’s easy to see how she came to work with other artists of the calibre of Carly Simon, Albert Mazibuko (Ladysmith Black Mambazo), and Martha Tilston, while her songwriting has been compared to that of Jeff Buckley and John Martyn. I’m not sure those comparisons do her any favours – she has a voice all her own – but I have to agree that this is quality writing. Recommended.

*Ngoni: a West African stringed instrument that some believe to have evolved into the banjo; Balafon: also from Africa and perhaps originating in Mali, an instrument resembling the xylophone; ***Ronroco: an Argentinian stringed instrument, essentially a low-register charango. Its use is something of a Sieber trademark.

David Harley

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Artist’s website: www.carrietree.co.uk

‘Deep As We Dare’ – live: