Having already made a sizeable impression on Australia’s acoustic music scene, Melbourne-based trio Anita Hillman and sisters Maggie and Elsie Rigby are now venturing into overseas waters with the international release of their debut album.
Produced by Shooglenifty’s Luke Plumb (himself from Tasmania), who also contributes mandolin, straddling folk and bluegrass, there’s times when the Australian accents can be clearly heard, but, for the most, you’d easily mistake the girls for north of England folkies although, having said that, their lovely closing close harmony a capella rendition of Kate Rusby’s ‘Lately’ actually more evokes an Appalachian setting.
The album opens with the pizzicato banjo notes of Caroline, setting a nervy, unsettling mood that mirrors lines like “He asked her if she wanted a white picket fence, and she was scared to death when she realised what he meant” and “she keeps the house clean and she dreads the nights when he comes home”. Things get lighter on Elsie’s bluegrass chugging ‘The Boat’, banjo, cello and shuffling drums (courtesy Shooglenifty’s James Mackintosh) underpinning a metaphor-laced (“the sea tickled the tummy of an unfamiliar boat”) playful ditty about a man entranced by the girl he meets on the beach.
Written by her sister, the following track, the gently swaying ‘Back To The Shore’, maintains the poetic imagery of sea and boats in a matters of the heart context. Indeed, the pair make much use of nature imagery throughout, eyes scanning the skies on the mandolin-twinkling title track’s nod to childhood wonder (a theme seemingly revisited on the following slow waltz fiddle accompanied ‘Sands Of Time’), wildflowers and herons encountered on ‘Walking’’s celebration of exploring and camping in the great outdoors while ice and sun serve metaphorical purpose in both ‘Ice Upon Your Skin’ (a song of rebirth) and the seize the day ‘World Of Your Own’. And then, of course, there’s the Biblical allusions of the shuffling ‘The Rain Song’. Indeed, even Hillman’s banjo-dappled, Appalachian-shaded ‘Yours For The Keeping’, her only contribution and an allegorical tale about choosing scary experience over safe familiarity, has a young girl torn ignoring the advice of a wise owl and taking that of a fox as to which road she should travel.
It even extends to the artwork, adapted by Elsie from the Chrysanthemum wallpaper design by 19th century designer William Morris, who in turn is duly paid tribute on the vocally tumbling, ukulele backed track that bears his name.
My personal favourite, though, has to be ‘Time Heals All Wounds’, an end of relationship carousel-waltzer by Maggie and on which she plays marimba, fiddle making a late entry as she asks why she didn’t realise that “If I stayed down the road I’d wind up at the end”.
Having wowed Celtic Connections earlier his year, they’re back for a summer tour that includes Cambridge Folk festival and the Maverick Festival, you’re highly recommended to join the housewarming party.
Artist website: https://themaes.com.au/