KATIE DOHERTY & THE NAVIGATORS – And Then (Steeplejack Music, SJCD023)

And ThenA life-changing decade after her debut album, Bridges, was released, Katie Doherty returns – with Navigators Shona Mooney (fiddle) and Dave Gray (melodeon). New album, And Then, feels like an invitation to sit down for some tea and cake and a bit of a catch-up.

An early graduate of Newcastle University’s Folk Music degree, sometime Broom Bezzums member, Royal Shakespeare Company project musical director and collaborator with many other theatrical companies, Doherty’s career path has taken plenty of serendipitous turns. Add in marriage and a small person underfoot, and it’s all too easy to see how time can slip by.

All but one of the songs on And Then, were written by Doherty, a gifted songwriter with a huge melodic sensibility. Her songs may still have a folk core, but they are wrapped within contemporary musical and singing styles. From the warmly nostalgic, contagiously lovely waltz of ‘Heartbeat Ballroom’ via the strong, jagged ‘Angry Daughter’ – a protest song framed in a female context (and featuring Doherty’s splendid cathartic soul diva holler) – through to the strong musical theatre vibe of ‘And Then’, myriad diverse influences inform this engaging music.

A noticeable self-critical streak is also evident, starting with the volley of bending notes that conveys the defiant, chin-out hurt of ‘I’ll Go Out’. A pragmatic view of love is established in ‘Yours’ and only ‘Navigator’ (the source of the band’s name) lightens up a bit to celebrate love and friendship. Still, a lingering core of self-doubt persists in many of the lyrics, like in ‘Tiny Little Shoes’, a delightful, very Bella Hardy-esque song about the fear – and love – of parenting.

For a totally contrasting mood, Doherty’s sansula playing adds ethereality to the already sparse and chilly ‘Rose In Winter’, warmed only by a faint echo of birdsong. Equally gripping are the muscular fiddle and mournful melodeon breaths of ‘Polska’, a traditional tune to which the addition of Doherty’s arabesque melismatic vocalisations could be considered a spot of lily-gilding.

As the belated catch-up draws to a close, a chorus of voices joins with the plucked fiddle and barely-there piano opening to ‘We Burn’, swelling into a triumphant, uplifting finale. On the strength of this smartly constructed set of songs, it’s to be hoped that Ms Doherty and her Navigators don’t leave it quite so long next time.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.katiedoherty.co.uk

‘Heartbeat Ballroom’ – official video: