LUCY FARRELL – We Are Only Sound (Hudson)

We Are Only SoundBorn in Kent and now based in Canada, Farrell is probably better known for her contributions to the work of others, both live and in the studio, having lent her guitar, fiddle, viola and voice to such names as Chris Cleverley, Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band, MG Boulter (who plays lap steel here) and The Furrow Collective as well as her duo work with both Andrew Waite and Jonny Kearney, However, the time has now come to step into the solo spotlight with her debut album, We Are Only Sound, recorded at Wenlock Abbey in Much Wenlock, home to Nick Drake’s sister Gabrielle and playing his piano and guitar, featuring a guest list that includes Kris Drever, Ben Nicholls and Neil McSweeney and drawing on the folk and traditional music on which she was reared.

That said, these are all self-penned numbers, the collection opening with the watery ripples of ‘Paperthin’, a reflection on a former childhood flame (“you took hours o! my heart and spent them on the days away playing grownups in the dark …I remember sometimes the days that we spent and the places we went and I wonder, if there’s ever been anyone that’s seen me so clearly”). That’s followed by the plucked pizzicato ‘Snows Blowing Wild’ with its theme of support in tough times (“ice on the water/when you’re on your own everything seems harder/ but we’ll find our way out of the gutter/if you take my hand we’ll get there together and we’ll hold onto this”) and then the circling melody line and pulsing rhythm of the dreamy, strings-enrobed ‘Keep On’, a song about, well, keeping on “when it all seems to roll into one” and sustaining those tiny steps positive changes in your life (“it’s hard to keep the curtains drawn when you’ve been outside”).

Introspective throughout, the nature of relationships is an underlying thread woven through the songs, holding them tight even when things may get fractious as on ‘Never Enough’ (“sometimes when we need to talk/I bite your tongue and you hold mine to me …I never know when to bow out or stand up straight”) where she turns the lens on herself (“I am a hard won right read me wrong or read me right”) or the contentment that warms the wintery sparse piano arrangement of ‘Love Is Easy’ (“I don’t leave my room but it’s alright/better to be locked out from the inside”).

Insecurity and anxiety go hand in hand, captured here in ‘Suddenly (Woken by Alarms)’ (“we’ve looked at each other too long now to see that our silence isn’t our guard as you seem to find the edges of me and mislay all of my charms”) and the minimal strum and atmospheric crackles of ‘Sit Down’ where “I hardly see you anymore/maybe it’s not me you’re looking for” is balanced by the surrender and acceptance of ‘But For You’ (“I will unravel between breaths and watch the years go by/there is a version of myself I’ve left behind”.

Motherhood yields the self-explanatory slow waltzing ‘Edwyn Lullaby’, though even here she warns of placing too much trust in her constancy (“don’t depend on me, I’m not a constant ally/I have other lives to lead”) and is troubled by how quickly things can change (“while you were sleeping I held you near me watching your eyes follow your dreams/they seemed to go by so fast I worry the same thing will happen to me”).

There’s an uneasy mind behind these songs, haunted as they are by change, barriers and mixed emotions such as those underpinning ‘Sacrifice’ (“now I can’t see a way through it only round”) where again there’s an unflinching self-awareness (“I will not be good/I will not be kind/I will place the orders/I will pay the price/and I will not be yours you will not be mine/I will paint the alter as you sacrifice”) and, in the jerky wheezing carousel sway of the soaringly sung ‘Safe In The Open’, the emotional trauma of being alone (“where you gonna go when the lights change/ who you gonna call when it’s too late/who will tell you how you should behave now that you know that it’s over”) that comes post-break up “when all you want to do when it gets dark sit in a bar with an old spark”.

Joined by Richard Warren on electric guitar and Laurence Hunt on percussion, the title track with its hesitant piano notes, airy ambience and hints of Kate Bush rounds things off with a final sketch of emotional dysfunction and need in relationships as hearing the neighbours squabble (“I hear your life come through the walls/I hear it all your every move, your morning song your fights and curses”) seems to reflect back as she sings ““I didn’t mean to deceive you/I did not mean to/but you have a hunger I can see through…I know I make it hard for you to love me/I know despite me/But you could be the reason you are lonely.”

Complex and enigmatic, Farrell says she uses the songs to work through her feelings, looking at the problems and contradictions but not necessarily finding answers and, as such, and with mostly understated and spare arrangements, it takes some time for it to cast its spell. But cast it, it does.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘But For You’ – live: