Having garnered both lavish critical praise and commercial success for her 2021 debut, The Eternal Rocks Beneath, the Birmingham singer-songwriter returns with what might have been the difficult second album given that she’d lived with many of the songs on the first since childhood. But, rooted in themes of nostalgia, home and of the push and pull of letting go and holding on, the pendulum swing of the title, it glows with an effortless maturity and grace in transitioning from those teenage years to womanhood, from someone discovering their art to someone to whom it feels second nature.
Producer Simon J Weaver on synths, it opens with a brief instrumental, ‘Returning’, setting the ambience and conjuring images of a grandfather clock counting out the passing minutes in some twilight hallway, with occasional scratches and rustles of the life of the house. It ebbs into ‘Selah’, Harry Fausing Smith on violin and viola with Polly Virr on cello while Priddy dances around the guitar strings, her pure, pastoral voice with its echoes of Vashti Bunyan floating into view like evening mist. The song takes its title from the Hebrew word variously meaning to reflect or raise voices in praise (coincidentally it’s also the title of the second track on Kanye West’s 2019 album Jesus Is King) and as such finds her in metaphysical mood, basking in the arms of the moon (wonderfully described as her “jaundiced sun”) as “My lady danced on through the night/She poured like honey across my skin” and “Pleasure shivered down my spine/I reached up played with the divine/She ran her fingers through my mind”. There’s a sensuality here that tingles with the spirits of Rossetti and Dickinson or even John Donne, conjuring a secret lover that fears exposure in the light as she soothes “Don’t let the devil dawn frighten you my love/As your indigo gets tainted with his blood/Hush now darling morning has come/But I’ll find a time when we can be one/And a waiting world will watch beneath her/As my lady melts into the aether”.
Opening with field recording samples and joined by Marcus Hamblett on muted brass and double bass, the dreamily lullabying ‘The First House On The Left’ is inspired by the house where she grew up (“the boat made of old bricks and mortar/That’s kept us afloat as we sail through the years”) and the memories captured within its walls over the centuries (“All of their voices still breathe in these walls/It’s as though things never change here at all”) and its various occupants (“is this where they slept on the way to the jail?/Or the shop where the lady had sweeties for sale?/Or is this just the nest that was emptied by war?/Or the room where the next generation was born?”), the lyrics containing the phrase from which the album title derives and capturing the urge to leave but also the urge to return to the comfort of the past (“I try to go but home pulls me back in”).
Leading in with drone and fingerpicked acoustic and joined by John Smith on lead guitar, ‘These Words Of Mine’ is a quietly heartbreaking snapshot of fears of a relationship crumbling (“At night I try my best to climb the walls that you’ve been building/It’s hard to know where to start/Would it be so hard to say three words before you go?/‘Cause I just need to know/That you’re not going to go and break my heart…All of these words and you’ve none left for me/Just unspoken sentences lost to a breeze”). As such, it’s mirrored by the post-break-up angst of ‘Does She Hold You Like I Did’ (“they say you tried to find someone easier to love, and yes/Guess I’m no blessing, but I must confess/That I have never loved you more”), an uptempo number that opens with a crash of drums, string and Hamblett’s trumpet, setting an urgent rhythm that calls Thea Gilmore to mind (though I suspect Charlotte Bronte melodrama might be a literary influence in the line “when you’re standing on the cliff edge and you see the waves beneath/Is it my voice that you hear?/Is my face that you see?”) as it drowns in denial (“Cause I’ll tell myself you miss me until I believe it’s true”).
Returning to traditional folk colours with the loping circular fingerpicked rhythm of ‘Northern Sunrise’, George Boomsma on backing vocals, is another love song etched in pastoral and giddily sexual imagery (“Stinking of woodsmoke, rum and wildflowers/Was it the sun or the moonshine it drove us to dance there for hours/Reeling from nettles and ale that you stole from the bar/Your voice made me enter, your skin made me stay/We move like the water, two currents merged, meeting halfway/Lost my defences somewhere in the back of a car”). Once again there’s that tug of conflicting desires (“I know we’re both drifters, not ones to stay still/I’m scared of freewheeling but I’m so sick of struggling uphill/Give me an orbit that holds me whilst letting me spin”) and of resistance and submission (“god knows I tried/To resist you from the moment I kissed you/One night near the sea/Never dreamt you’d be drowning with me”) that balances the rush with the need to go slow (“We don’t fall in love, we rise/Like the dawn burns slow”).
Boomsma hangs around for the suitably swaying ‘A Boat On The River’, Virr back on cello and Hamblett on brass, an intimately, whisperingly sung number about feeling adrift and urban dislocation (“This city’s not home, though it knows me well/It’s cradled me close for some time/But when I’m alone and the traffic stops beating/I can’t get the thoughts from my mind/Am I just lost? Could I be lonely?/Is it just the rain we’ve had so much of lately?/Or is it just that this city’s been bringing me down?”) and a wish to just live the simple life (“I’ll go where the current takes me/All that I want is to live slow and easy/One day at a time is enough speed to please me/A dog by the door and someone to sing me to sleep…To rise with the dawn, to live by the seasons/To accept that things change without asking for reasons/To sleep like a baby, to love and be loved in return”).
Smith returning on lead guitar, the lovingly picked and caressingly sung ‘Father Of Two’ is, as you might imagine, for her dad (“The first to ever hold me and the last to let me down”) and her journey “from that small drumbeat/On an ultrasound”, the track opening with a clip from an old cassette recording of him and her mum talking to her and her twin brother when they were just three, the line “And though there were times when tides were low/It’s good to know that eight strong legs/Trod water through it all” a lovely image of her family.
Opening with the sound of a phone ringing and an answerphone message, built around an electric guitar pattern that is more complex than it sounds, ‘Anyways, Always’ is a bittersweet number about checking in on and flame, a relationship that drifted apart but without any hard feelings (“how was I supposed to know/That you were never mine to keep/And the feelings you awakened/Were never meant to get this deep/We’re two ships passing at night/A moment, a trick of the light/I just wish we’d had a little time… I know we both had reasons to keep moving/A shame that in the end it got confusing/I’d like to think we tried in our own ways”).
Kicking up the tempo, ‘Walnut Shell’, again is about family, specifically her twin brother Jack who moved to New Zealand a couple of years back, the bond captured in lines like “Two lines upon the door frame/Four handprints on the wall…Nine months swimming the same sea/Before we came to shore/At ten to twelve on Wednesday ninth/Ninety ninety-four” and how “We’re two halves of a walnut shell/What’s in you’s in me as well”.
The final song, a co-write with Boomsma who shares vocals along with acoustic guitar and banjo with Smith on lead, Hamblett on double bass and Weaver on piano and brushed drums, ‘Ready To Go’ is a dreamy country waltz (complete with semi-yodel) that could be about a parting of the ways and an acceptance of coming to the end of life and love’s trail (“the curtain must fall on our show/It’s my time to leave and I’m ready to go”), beautifully accompanied by a backing vocals chorus that includes both her brother and father John. This would be your new favourite funeral song.
The Pendulum Swing ends as it began with a brief atmospheric synth instrumental, the aptly titled ‘Leaving’, a perfect bookend to an album that’s guaranteed to be among the year end best of lists and see her moving to the next level in the celestial constellation of contemporary folk.
Artist’s website: www.katherinepriddy.com
‘First House On The Left’ – official video: