KATHERINE PRIDDY – The Eternal Rocks Beneath (Navigator NAVIGATOR106)

The Eternal Rocks BeneathMaking her recording debut back in 2018 with her well-received Wolf EP, Birmingham-based Priddy has wisely taken her time in working up to a full album, notching up some heavyweight support slots with the likes of Richard Thompson,  limited edition vinyl single ‘Letters From A Travelling Man’ and a Nick Drake tribute single (she comes from, Alvechurch, the village neighbouring his birthplace) covering ‘Northern Sky’ and ‘River Man’ alongside Jon Wilks, Lukas Drinkwater and Jon Nice, Christmas single ‘Still Winter, Still Waiting’, a Scott Matthews cover for the Relay download series along the way.

As such, trailed by three taster singles (as well as cover of Daniel Johnston’s ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’) anticipation for The Eternal Rocks Beneath, produced by Simon Weaver who also contributes bass, electric guitar and percussion, has been building and it doesn’t disappoint, and while some of the songs date back to when she was a teenager (she’s now 25) they have a depth and maturity that belie such callow years.

As an English Literature graduate from  the University of Sussex, it’s no surprise to find that mingling with the musical influences (she cites Drake and Vashti Bunyan as prime movers), with the deceptively pastoral-sounding cascading rhythms of the strings-adorned  and tin whistle punctuated ‘Wolf’ taking inspiration from the destructive relationship in Wuthering Heights.  It’s one of two numbers taken from that initial EP, the other being the five-minute ‘Ring O’Roses’, one of the earliest songs, that, opening like a brooding storm, draws on the children’s nursery rhyme and its historical plague connotations for an excursion into spooked darkness on the back of acoustic guitar and drone backing, while the line “But you’re safe locked inside your head” might well have mental health connotations.

Also revisited is ‘Letters From A Travelling Man’, a scampering bluegrass flavoured number with Michael King on banjo, Richard March on double bass, Dan Green on bodhran and one of four to feature Mikey Kenney’s fiddle, but otherwise everything else is new material, opening with the liltingly sung, soft pastoral sway of Indigo with the echoes of childhood (“The taller you grew, the taller the trees/And you’d run home all muddy and graze both your knees/And there in the middle stood a tall, slender beech/If you raised both your arms you found you could reach/The base of her branches and upwards you swung”) amid its metaphorical nature imagery and musings on both the transience of mortality and the cosmic forever  (“Oh the earth will forget you, to the stars you are known/And when this life’s over they’ll herald you home”).

Greek mythology looms large with two numbers set back to back, the first being  the folksy waltzing ‘Icarus’  which, set to warm strings and acoustic guitar waltzes, adopts the story of the man who flew to close to the sun to reflect on a doomed past relationship  (“Do you remember that night where you set me alight?/Swore that the moon turned pale at the sight of us?/Melted away at the first light of day/Knew that I could never make you stay”) and a self-destructive streak captured in the line “You’re holding the match to your own funeral pyre”.

It’s followed by the crackling static that opens the fragile sung, slow walk rhythm, reversed guitar and swirling soundscape of ‘Eurydice’ that explores a similar theme (“a blackhole my dear, a beautiful empty/You’re sucking me dry and spitting out memories”), sung in the persona of Orpheus emerging from the Underworld, scared but desperate to look back, the song resolving in the shattering “I knew you were only/A shadow behind me/I loved you blindly”.

Prior to these is the fingerpicked  cello and accordion shaded swayer ‘About Rosie’ (“a wallflower left school at sixteen”), the music again belying the lyric,  a quasi-autobiographical  bittersweet  sketch of  teenage naiveté,  longing  and disappointment (“our poor young Rosie got it in her head/To believe the first man who promised the world from his bed/Oh the world can seem large if you’re made to feel small/It’s harder to fly than to fall”), about a life trapped in stasis (“Rosie stays stagnant and waiting/The girl missed her cue/If you’re told that no green grass grows beyond your field/You learn not to wander and instead learn to yield”) that speaks of an abusive relationship (“treading on eggshells it’s so hard to tell/If her lover will love her or if he’ll raise hell…It’s the soft way he loves her and the hard way he hates…Tells her she’s worthless, sows all his doubts in her mind”) And yet ends with the hope of self-liberation  in the lines “Everything’s changing and nothing’s concrete/The only prison’s the body you’re born in”.

That sense of disappointment and unfulfilled promise is also evident in two songs relating to the seasons, The first is the intimately-sung troubadour-styled fingerpicked ballad ‘The Spring Never Came’  with its Celtic mist hues, accordion and March’s bass,  another song about romantic disappointment  and loss (“I still feel your hands and the shape of your fingers/The way that they lingered round mine… to think that another may call you her lover/I can’t think of anything worse”), and yet here memory of what was affords  some consolation (“So goodbye my sun, and know your rays/Have left lasting warmth on all my days”). Opening with guitar arpeggios, the second is album closer ‘The Summer Has Flown’, a pastoral number with musical DNA linked to things like ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, an acceptance of parting and moving on (“I could never bear to see things die/Goodbye”).

By contrast, again featuring Kenney, the remaining track, ‘The Isle of Eigg’, is a stripped back, traditional style reminiscence of a trip to the Hebrides and some serious drinking and singing with its wild inhabitants, a welcome escape and catharsis from the gloom that permeates elsewhere as she sings “If it’s freedom you need then let the isle be your cure”.

The Eternal Rocks Beneath ends as it opens, with the sound of a blackbird chirping, a personal evocation of childhood, a fittingly organic framing to an album that, as the title implies, explores the foundations upon which she has built,  her eye and ear for detail, the quiet and calm purity of her voice and the skill of her guitar playing.  The future is hers for the taking.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.katherinepriddy.co.uk

‘Eurydice’ – official video: