Coming to folk music by way of children’s choirs in the Netherlands, now based in East London, van Essen is gifted with a gentle, pure at times slightly quivering vocal that, on occasion, reminds me of Kate McGarrigle. A New Hiding Place, her debut album (she released a single recording of the ‘Ninety-Third Psalm’ in 2012), is an eight-track collection that combines both self-penned and traditional American folk songs, the first five being all her own material.
It opens with the simple, nature imagery-steeped ‘Sister Song’, featuring Rachel Finegan on trumpet with van Essen on slightly discordant piano and repeated guitar notes, taking a lyrically domestic turn for the acoustic strum of ‘The House’, a stay awhile love song that sees Finegan’s muted trumpet making a reappearance for the final fade. The final words mention the kitchen table and that, in turn, becomes the focus of the dreamily romantic reverie of ‘Kitchen Table Conversation’. It’s another number built around a minimal repeated guitar pattern, as indeed is the bucolic ‘Song About The Moon’, although here set to a waltz tempo, the last of the original contributions being the slow swaying melancholia-tinged ‘Bluebells’ about a love too hesitant and shy, its “confidence gone with the herd”, Finegan’s trumpet augmented by Keren Lloyd on whistle and deep resonant harmonies from Kerry Yong.
The first of the traditional material, featuring egg shaker ‘The Weary Soul’ is van Essen’s arrangement of The Sacred Harp tune, the words about meeting again on Canaan’s shore written in 1803 by John Granade and set to music by J.T. White in 1844. Slightly more familiar will be ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, another song of going home to the maker, this time crossing the River Jordan, that regularly features in the recorded canon, van Essen’s suitably moody arrangement featuring dark desert stormcloud electric guitar from Jim Moreton.
It ends with the title track, the words, a reference to a line in Isaiah, taken from an old Negro spiritual about sinners finding deliverance in giving up themselves to God, van Essen setting them to music etched out on guitar and piano.
It doesn’t stretch itself musically and some may find the sparse settings a touch samey, but there’s a beguiling sense of bruised innocence and spirituality within it that, if you surrender to its simple charms, will draw you into its embrace.
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Artist’s website: www.gerivanessen.com
‘Song About The Moon’ – official video: