The longest surviving UK female duo (and also with their own solo careers), as the title suggests their latest album, the songs of Women Of The World, initially switching between the two, is a celebration of women power and of those who have inspired them across the years, just as they themselves have empowered women across generations.
The album featuring contributions from Miranda Sykes, Marion Fleetwood, Michael McGoldrick, Kellie While, Tom Chapman, and Johnny Heyes, it opens with the anthemic title track, a tribute to Sara Wahedi, an Afghani tech innovator who, using old sms phones, is enabling girls from Afghanistan, where the Taliban have denied their right to education to learn at home (“you learn in shadows, with your sisters you defy”). The song encourages them to “dream on, don’t give up, one day this too will pass…their cruel hold will shatter like glass”), with its rousing chorus “we will all walk together/Walk together along this road”.
Equally anthemic with Kit’s guitar jangles, the liltingly melodic ‘Seventh Wave’ pays tribute to how so many young people today are engaging with politics and the environment (“The young, the brave/They’re going to save what we couldn’t save”), telling those in power to “shut up and listen for a change” and although “we’ve been running this thing to the ground” there is “a young blood army” coming and they should be given a seat at the table.
The fingerpicked, troubadour-style ‘Crow’ is a more playful but no less serious number about how anything can irritate you when you’re in the wrong state of mind and you don’t want it getting any worse (“Leave me in my misery, stop prying/Come back and see me in a day or two”), which, at its heart, says sometimes you just want to be left alone however well-meaning the intrusions may be.
The gently flowing ‘Starfish Thrower’ is Matthews’ fond memory of a lost friend which, in describing her story about throwing stranded starfish back into the sea, echoes the Talmudic message inscribed on Oskar Schindler’s ring, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire”. In ‘Covered In Roses’, While also pays poignant tribute to a lost friend from her teenage years (“your mother had a closed heart, she was bitter deep inside/And she would not let you close to her, so you drew close to mine”), Lesley, who died of aplastic anaemia at just 17, the title referencing to the marks on her skin after the steroids treatment, but how she faced it with courage (“Last time I saw you you were wearing your best smile…you were making light of it through a thin disguise”) , the song ending with the sob-choking “You loved Elvis Presley. Me? Marvin Gaye/And we danced circles round each other on your last birthday”.
McGoldrick on Uillean pipes, ‘Beautiful Brave Tattoo’ is dedicated to another brave soul, Miranda Sykes, who has spoken publicly about the tattoo she had after her mastectomy, her skin now carrying a roadmap tribute to those who have shaped her path, her mother, son, lover, and remind her not of loss but what was won “and a life unfolding before her”.
They turn to global issues with the piano-based ‘Yellow And Blue’, addressing a theme of aggression and oppression offset with endurance and resistance and the choices that can be made as they sing “heavy is the hand that holds the key/That locks away or sets the captive free/That makes a first in anger or solidarity”, in a call to “rise up, raise your eyes up”, the title clearly referring to the colours of the Ukrainian flag.
On a personal note, the swaying strummed ‘In Dreams’ is While’s song for her late mother (“Wish I’d known you a little bit longer, but we just didn’t have enough time…But I see you clearly when I close my eyes”), followed by the first of two lockdown songs (“It’s not the big things I miss the most…the one thing you can’t replace/The human touch, a warm embrace” and “a webcam is our saving grace”) in Matthews’ ‘Embrace’ which, featuring Kellie While’s harmonies, Neil Fairclough on bass and Fleetwood’s strings, was released back in 2020 as a charity single in aid of mental health. The other, also by Matthews, is the dreamily swaying and soulful album closer ‘Hollow Days’ (“that tumble into weeks/like dusty old antiques that crumble and fade” when “we linger longer, under the covers”, their voices coming together in gospel mood to affirm “there is a light at the end of the tunnel…there is a new hope to fill up the empty/A lifeboat to cling to when all hope fades”.
Sandwiched between is the third of the final Matthews’ numbers, the near six-minute ‘Pulling Weeds’, a reminder that “everybody’s carrying their own share of sorrow/Mostly on the inside underneath the skin” as we “only show our strength, no flaws, no surprises”, with a reminder to be kind and gentle and that “no one ever truly wants a heart like an island” and that, while when we try to help it can sometimes feel like pulling weeds which will be back the next day, that doesn’t mean we should give up on tending our neighbour’s garden and that “though loss and contrition abound/Hope can always be found”.
After almost thirty years of making music and twelve studio albums together, Women Of The World shows their creative spirit, their craft and their compassion undiminished, a voice for the women of the world.
Artists’ website: www.whileandmatthews.com
‘Women Of The World’:
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