With all that happens in their individual careers it must be difficult for Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Rowan Rheingans to make time to work together as Lady Maisery. In fact, Tender comes six years after its predecessor and that’s a long time in the lives of young musicians. The changes are obvious: all three have expanded their instrumental range and there is a new authority about their performance. Tender is a very powerful album and a very feminist one.
It opens with Rowan’s title track, inspired by the shipping forecast and contemplates the state of the world and its possible future. The arrangement is dominated by Rowan’s banjo and producer Adam Pietrykowski adds organ, as he does to the second track, Hazel’s ‘Bird I Do Not Know’. Hannah’s ‘Echoes’ is driven by pumped accordion, a very dynamic sound which seems to contrast with and yet envelop the theme of dementia.
The first cover is Tracy Chapman’s ‘3000 Miles’ – a song about the ever-present danger that young women face on city streets. It is accompanied initially just by Rowan’s banjo but builds up relentlessly and by its end the album has shifted up a gear. Bjőrk’s ‘Hyperballad’ would seem to be Hannah’s choice of cover, performed with just voices and body percussion and Hannah doing a creditable impersonation here and there. It’s an odd song, as Bjőrk’s often are, but very compelling.
Climate change is the subject of Hazel’s ‘Scientist’. It’s telling that her protagonist is female and almost worn out by trying to explain to people what’s happening to the world. Her husband, by contrast, is described as a “drowsy sleeper” while her son endlessly rebuilds collapsing sandcastles. ‘Rest Now’ is another overtly feminist song by Rowan and then Hazel retells the story of Pandora in ‘The Fall’ from a wiser perspective. She shouldn’t have opened that chest. Toby Kuhn adds percussion.
Lal Waterson’s ‘Child Among The Weeds’ is the third and final cover. It’s an apparently simple song that conceals deeper meanings and I have to confess that I am probably the wrong gender to appreciate it properly. Lady Maisery sing it unaccompanied in forceful harmony. Hannah’s ‘Noughts And Crosses’ reflects on an aspect of the return to “normality” after lockdown and Rowan straps on her electric guitar. Finally, Hazel’s ‘Birdsong’ is a simply descriptive song but you’ll notice that all her songbirds are female.
As I said, Tender is a passionate and forceful album full of powerful messages – and if I didn’t say that exactly, that is what I meant.
Artists’ website: www.ladymaisery.com
‘Birdsong’ – live: