Ralph McTell has likened the Yorkshire progressive folk singer-songwriter’s guitar playing to Bert Jansch. I’d not disagree, but I’d also suggest Davy Graham and Wizz Jones have also helped shape her highly distinctive and often esoteric patterns and structures, while she herself cites Roy Harper, John Martyn and Laura Marling among her influences.
Produced by Spencer Cozens, who, of course, collaborated with Martyn, and accompanied by Tom Mason on double bass, percussionist Miles Bould and Martin Winning on woodwind, this is her album debut following two EPs, and is very much informed by the East Riding landscape in terms of atmosphere, mood and imagery.
She opens with, at just over two minutes, the shortest track, ‘Incense Skin, with its circling crystal shimmering fingerpicked guitar and double bass bookending the poetic four line lyric. It sets the musical mood and the war, intimate vocal style for the subsequent ‘Drinking The Same Water’ with its lightly dappled melody, Bould’s subtle percussive shadings and a lyric in which simple actions, like counting the trees on the way to school or washing her hands, prompt thoughts about an absent parent, wondering if they are doing the same and thinking of her.
Coloured with clarinet, the title track follows, again with a circling guitar and touching on a fractured relationship, unexpectedly seeing the face of a former (and jealous) lover across a room, things shifting into jazzier guitar territory for ‘You Came Like A Hurricane’, an almost 90-second instrumental intro giving way to a more lyrically upbeat number about finding new love (outside a supermarket), the sort that feels like discovering twenty pound notes under your duvet.
Continuing in the same vein of weather imagery, the languidly sung ‘Hello Sun’ has a lovely summer afternoon vibe and a lyric about looking to spend some time in the sunshine again after having been hanging out for too long with the darkness; for some inexplicable reason it reminds me of Melanie.
A delicate, pastoral folk instrumental that serves to showcase her guitar virtuosity, Helsa (which may or may not connect to the Norwegian for saying hello) provides the bridge to the album’s second half which gets underway with ‘Too High Alone’, a parting song (“today you have your boots on”) that, featuring Winning’s clarinet, has vague musical hints of ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’.
Albeit with some minor tweaks to the lyrics, the sole traditional number is an arrangement of (fittingly) ‘Spencer The Rover’, a folk staple that’s been recorded by, among others, Shirley Collins, The Copper Family and John Martyn, and, while taken a slightly more uptempo pace, it’s his reading this most recalls. Interestingly, while the lyric has mention of Spencer rambling in Yorkshire, only one variant of the song has ever been collected in the county, in 1907, as sung by George Hall in Hooton Roberts, which, as per the song lyrics, is “near Rotherham”.
Another parting song, ‘The Best Thing About Leaving’ is structured in two parts, opening with a bluesy feel, Andalucian tones etched on resonant Spanish guitar to a wind-like drone backdrop, and the strongest indication of Martyn’s influence, the first two lines of the lyric followed by a lengthy instrumental passage before, just over half way in, the track shapeshifts for a more lilting section containing the remaining uplifting two verses.
Featuring sampled bird trills, it ends with ‘The Hunter’, the album’s most musically fluid and upbeat track, riding a rippling rhythm and hand percussion with lyrics that melds images of both restlessness (“the cuckoo flew this morning”) and permanence (“discontent with rented goods”) as she sings “I am not the hunter you say I am/The bird’s nest it’s always in my head/Never in my hands”.
McTell calls her a musical weaver threading tapestries of song. Long may her loom spin.
Artist’s website: www.katiespencer.net
‘You Came Like A Hurricane’ – live:
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