ELLE OSBORNE – If You See A Rook On Its Own, It’s A Crow (9th House)

If You See A Rook On Its Own It’s A CrowSince I first heard Elle Osborne she’s fallen in with a good crowd – friends like Alasdair Roberts and Trembling Bells – moved from interpreting traditional songs to being a fully fledged songwriter and polished her performances a bit. Don’t get me wrong: So Slowly, Slowly Got She Up is a brilliant record and I had to play it again before I turned my attention to If You See A Rook On Its Own, It’s A Crow, her fourth full length album. There’s a big difference between them.

The title comes from the opening track, ‘Birds Of The British Isles’ with its lovely ringing guitar. You might call it quirky, as you might with many of Elle’s songs, were it not for its serious intent finally revealed in one line in the last verse: “And I’ve almost learnt to greet the haters with loving smiles”. Don’t underestimate anything you hear. The fiddle-driven ‘No Hoof, No Horse’ is about the two animals Elle is seen walking on the back cover. It’s a tune you could dance to but more at a grand ball in the American south than an English barn.

‘Comedy & Tragedy’ could be found at the same ball and contrasts two opposing viewpoints but “comedy, everyone loves you but secretly loves tragedy more”. Elle encapsulates a profound thought in that line. By all accounts, Elle had an unconventional upbringing and ‘Bread & Whisky’ and ‘Stolen Goods’ strike me as coming from memories of her youth. I think that’s Alex Neilson drumming on the former but I could be wrong on both counts. ‘The Taming Of The Shrewd’ is another knockout title. The song is dominated by Alice Emerson’s guitar and the words are sometimes lost which is a pity. The lyrics are not included with the CD but will appear on Elle’s website.

‘The Selkie’ isn’t the traditional song but unpicking the words suggests that it could either be about the origin of the legend or the aftermath of the familiar story. I really don’t know yet. ‘Tundra’ takes us on another mysterious journey and ‘The Offing’ is sort of confessional in a confrontational way, if that makes sense. “Be as kind as you can be” seems to be the central idea. Finally, ‘The Sighs Of Whales’ is a short, rather mournful violin piece.

It will take several more plays before I unravel If You See A Rook On Its Own, It’s A Crow to anything like my satisfaction. It is lyrically and musically complex and some of the musicians hide behind pseudonyms. Eddie Myer and Matt Goorney are stalwarts of the Brighton scene but I didn’t know that Franc Roddam plays guitar and I don’t believe Dusty Springsteen or Theresa Elfin at all. Someone tell me I’m wrong. I can recommend all of Elle’s albums and her latest will give you hours of pleasure.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://www.elleo.com/

‘Birds Of The British Isles’ – official video: