Singer-songwriter Heidi Talbot releases new single ‘Empty Promise Land’ as she announces the May 20th release of her new album Sing It For A Lifetime. The single is a duet with Appalachian fiddle player Dirk Powell, and features guitar work from legendary Dire Straits stringsman Mark Knopfler.
‘Empty Promise Land’, written by Dirk many years ago, dramatizes the end of a relationship, with male and female voices reaching a shared place of resignation: “This woman whose life is boiling underneath her skin / This lonely man who’s just longing for his dreams again”, whilst Mark Knopﬂer’s guitar sings like a dobro. Sing It For A Lifetime was forged in a pressure cooker, recorded in one soundproofed room in a house that was being sold, as Heidi Talbot looked after her two daughters and negotiated the split from her husband of 11 years, the folk musician John McCusker
Dirk Powell has been one of Heidi’s earliest collaborators, appearing on her 2002 record Distant Future. Their alchemy has coaxed some of her most exposed and intimate work for this record; in addition to appearing on ‘Empty Promise Land’, Dirk took up production and engineering duties for the album, assisting Heidi in developing a combination of self-penned songs and exquisitely chosen covers reﬂecting the huge changes in her life.
With Powell she found the freedom to experiment, push her own boundaries, experimenting with the thumbprints of classic country – and discarding them if they didn’t feel right. She hit upon a blend of Celtic and Americana that was already in her blood stream: born in County Kildare, Ireland, Talbot was entranced by her mother’s Crystal Gayle and Patsy Cline records. She moved to the US as a teenager and began her performing career in the bars of New York, with a ﬁve-year stint as part of the American supergroup Cherish The Ladies.
A planned recording stint in Louisiana, cancelled because of Covid, turned into a remote real-time session over two diﬀerent time zones, 3000 miles apart with Talbot hunkered down with her engineer Cameron Malcolm in Edinburgh. An international group of musicians including her friend Mark Knopﬂer and keyboard player Guy Fletcher in London, Adam Holmes and violinist and orchestrator Seonaid Aitken in Scotland, singer Amelia Powell and drummer Bill Smith in the US, somehow came together so smoothly, you can’t hear the seams.
The result is a crowning achievement in her 20-year career. It shows a UK folk veteran going transatlantic, an unconscious return to her earliest years as a performer. But most importantly, it features her most raw and open-hearted work to date, as she ﬁnds a new voice away from the longstanding recording partnership with McCusker, who produced her records.
“Not to have that person there, for good and for bad, was a big jolt”, she says. “It was freeing, it was also terrifying. I had to man up – woman up – and ask myself what I really thought, stand by my choices. It really forced me to work on my own and examine my own music. I wanted to make a totally diﬀerent kind of record. I can’t make the same type of record without John.”
Any great upheaval is a period of self-discovery. Losing the intimate, end-of-the-day discussions she’d had with McCusker in the studio, Talbot found herself having to “live and die by my decisions”.
“It’s exciting and terrifying”, she reﬂects. “I’m not scared any more – at the start of the process, everything was so precious, it had to be perfect. Now I think, no, I’m going to make loads of records, and this is my best at this point in time.”
Artist’s website: https://heiditalbot.com/
‘Empty Promise Land’: