Written and recorded in her hillside home office/hallway studio while living in isolation on the rural fringes of Birmingham, Alone On A Hill (the title of which surely partially alludes to that line in that Beatles song) is quite simply just Bennett’s voice (and some body percussion), eleven songs variously about trees, birds, insomnia and, er, peas, sung unaccompanied with the vocals interlaced, overlapped and looped. And it’s stunning.
‘When The Wind Blows’ is, quite, literally, an 80-seconds breath of fresh air, a melodically infection joyous celebration of feeling the breeze with the repeated lyric “Sometimes when the wind blows/I open every window in the house/So that I can feel it on my skin”, giving way to ‘Sleep’, a number which returns to the theme of insomnia (“I cannot sleep I’ve tried/All night long/Checked the clock a thousand times/And the hands keep moving on”) she touched on with previous single ‘Darling Dear Darling’, her making effective use of plosive breathing sounds and electronically processed body percussion, the track ironically counterpointing its subject by developing into a dreamlike wash that evokes thoughts of Welsh chapel choirs.
The wordless backing reminiscent of the jazzy style of The Swingle Singers, the equally airy and dreamy ‘Head Above The Water’ opens struggling with circumstances (“Trying to keep my head above the water/Is proving to be an intolerable task..sometimes my feet scrape along the bottom”) but ends with her hearing “music up in the air”, another reminder of its power to uplift in time of darkness.
Almost certainly the only song you’ll ever hear titled after and mentioning the National Trust tiny wood in Bromsgrove to the south of Birmingham, ‘Frankley Beeches’ is a 54-second number on which, after a ya da da da wordless intro, has her speaking of being able to see it from where she lives, seamlessly appropriately shading into the vocally layered ‘Trees’, a slow and soothing call to receive strength from the healing power of nature which, for some reason, had me thinking of the late 20s classic ‘My Blue Heaven’.
Bennett has made no secret of her mental health struggles and jazzily arranged for four-part harmony, the vocally swooping ‘Devil’ (think a folk-tinged Cleo Laine) deals with experiencing a sudden bout of depression and paranoia (“he woos me with his honey lips/
And he stills me with his dancing eye/In my mouth the poison drips/In my ear turns truth to lie”), the percussive element processed with reverb effects from her hand on her chest and breathing heavily!
A co-write with cousin Lucy Minford, using voice as opening drone before the background harmonies appear, the uplifting ‘I Have A Song’ returns to the theme of being emotionally and psychologically paralysed (“Dark matter stuck in my throat/Pushing me down, down to the floor…My guitar locked in its case, untouched behind the door”) but, once more finding salvation in music (“now I have a song in my mind/And it springs from a place I couldn’t find.. now the melodies are haunting me”). It melds directly into ‘Box In The Attic’, a nostalgia-themed conversational song about sifting through photographs of family memories of seaside holidays, crying over losing a cheap plastic spade, and childhood spats with her three brothers, but “at that precise moment we were all there together”. It also sports a great line about “blood, sweat and beer”.
Equally reflective, the melodically itchy 80-second ‘Seventeen’ has her questioning whether after “Seventeen years in this town…Do I belong here?”, seguing straight into ‘Makes Me Forget’, another warm and soothing, hymnal choral harmonies number, about those simple pleasures that help you deal with isolation and forget about being alone.
And so to the legumes as it ends with ‘Growing Peas’, another allusion to insomnia and reflection on the unexpected joys of getting off the treadmill and enforced domesticity, such as watching the bids, butterflies and bees and, growing vegetables, coming to question what is truly important and what you really need other than enough to live on. Of course, being a musician, that entails playing to and connecting with an audience as she sings “Oh I really need to see you/And sing songs out loud/Be in a place with the people I love/And play to a real live crowd”.
The feeling is mutual and, as she returns to perform with her new a capella backing singers The Frankley Beeches, to paraphrase the Beatles on this glorious album of what she terms folktronicappella “the eyes in her head/See the world spinning ’round”. Share the vision.
Artist’s website: www.katyrosebennett.com
‘Devil’ – official video: