Chris & Siobhan Nelson – Early Birds (self-released, 2010)

The independent music scene is a wonderful place, and in particular that element of the scene which is nurtured and supported by our wonderful network of folk clubs. Southport-based Chris & Siobhan Nelson are very much an integral part of that scene, and their latest release is brimming with the kind of unpretentious warmth that one simply won’t find in the music of the more mainstream, media-savvy folk world. Early Birds has a rare and unrelenting beauty, that can be mostly attributed to the meticulous tenderness of Siobhan’s utterly adorable voice, recalling a younger Joan Baez. However, this is very much a partnership, and if Siobhan’s voice assumes the starring role, it’s Chris’ solid and diverse musicianship that weaves a wonderful backdrop against which Siobhan can glisten, playing fiddle, guitar and mandolin, amongst others.

The magic is most apparent when the understated backdrop of a gently plucked guitar and subtly bowed fiddle allow plenty of room for Siobhan’s fluent vocals to flood your senses. The subdued majesty of the string-drenched title track, where Siobhan’s commanding performance is only momentarily eclipsed by the delicate birdsong that opens and closes the song is one such example, and quite possibly the most bewitching performance that the folk scene will produce this year. Their cover of Dougie MacLean’s “Not Lie Down” is equally captivating, adding much feeling to MacLean’s winsome contemplations.

The Nelsons’ old friend, Barry Wake, contributes a couple of songs that do much to reinforce his position as a writing force to be reckoned with. The robust working class rhetoric of “Four Hours’ Work” brings a Ewan MacColl-like originality, yet equally holds the potential to seamlessly filter its way into the tradition. Wake’s second contribution adopts a more reflective position, pondering over life’s journey: “there’ll be regrets, and times to forget, but always there’s a road that you can choose.”

There is an accomplished selection of traditional material here too, impeccably illuminated by the Nelsons’ masterful musical poise, ranging from the bawdy “Ratcliffe Highway,” to the stately elegance of “The Loyal Lover,” and the circumspect narrative of “New York Trader.”

That our folk scene can quietly turn out such understated beauty, in the absence of vacuous media hype, gives hope to genuine lovers of music that the true beauty of art will ultimately prevail; that the cream of our music scene will always rise quietly and effortlessly to the top. Early Birds undoubtedly deserves to be jostling politely amongst the upper echelons of more commercial releases, and could certainly teach many of these pretenders a thing or two about
integrity and humility. You really should buy Early Birds: bask in its quiet splendour, luxuriate in its shimmering allure… simply enjoy it, because it is simply enjoyable.

Mike Wilson

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