BELLA HARDY – With The Dawn (Noe Records NOE08)

BELLA HARDY – With The DawnLike Songs Lost And Stolen, Bella Hardy’s new album is a set of her own songs. However, With The Dawn has none of the folkiness of its predecessor, which was essentially a collection of her best unrecorded songs one of which, ‘The Herring Girl’, won a Radio 2 folk award. These songs were written about a year in Bella’s life; life on the road, life plagued with personal difficulties. My first thought was that it was a bloody awful year but Bella prefers to think of it as the sort of period everyone goes through at some time. It’s about turning thirty and leaving the years of youth behind, tackling grown-up problems.

Most of the fiddle we hear is plucked, Bella’s preferred way of writing. Indeed, most of ‘Lullaby For A Grieving Man’ was recorded on an iPhone before producer Ben Seal added the finishing touches. Echoing the plucked fiddle are three banjo players including Cara Luft, giving the record its feeling of fragility. The strength and much of the decoration is brass and drums heavy on the cymbals but an image of Bella on the sofa with her violin remains.

The opening track and single is ‘The Only Thing To Do’ in part the story of a failed love affair and in part a reflection on her career. “So should I hide a broken heart? Or let the world tear me apart again?” she sings. Again? An impartial observer would say that Bella has had it pretty good so far. Other songs tread similar ground and ‘Another Whisky Song’ and ‘Oh! My God! I Miss You’ could be pages from the Morrissey song-book. The only song written for a commission, ‘Jolly Good Luck To The Girl That Loves A Soldier’, fits the mood perfectly. There are moments of optimism like ‘The Darkening Of The Day’, ‘Time Wanders On’ and ‘And We Begin’ – flashes of light that aren’t really the train signal masquerading as ‘First Light Of The Morning’. Bella seems to be searching for signs; is it morning or night that brings solace?

There is a long tradition of soul-searching and confessional albums and With The Dawn certainly belongs to it. But I can’t decide whether it is truly cathartic, a spontaneous outpouring of ideas and emotions, or carefully remodelled. The arrangements and Bella’s singing are both superb and Ben’s production does enough to grab the attention without dominating the songs.

Whatever you or I may think of it, With The Dawn will be in the frame next awards season.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘The Only Thing To Do’ – the official video: