So familiar individually are the names of Chris While, Julie Matthews, Helen Watson, and Melanie Harrold that it comes as something of a surprise to realise it’s been almost 20 years since they made their collective debut in 1995, taking a lengthy sabbatical after their 1996 tour before reuniting in 2017. Since then, Christine Collister has departed, her place being taken by double bassist Miranda Sykes for this new collection of jazz, folk and blues: Love Is The Weapon Of Choice.
It’s she who, her bass bringing Brubeck notes with Matthews (or possibly Harrold) on piano, takes lead on the Oliver Knight opening track, the swirlingly jazzy ‘Mysterious Day’, a number Collister sang on her 2002 solo album and indeed she herself previously covered on both 2005’s Miranda Sykes Band album and again with Rex Preston in 2013. Needless to say, she knows her way around in consummately. Her second turn in the spotlight comes with ‘Peace’, a shimmering folksy number written by Australian singer Susie Keynes, a celebration of home after returning to Adelaide following a lengthy stint on the road.
While’s first contribution is ‘Sailing Away’, a lilting, semi-tropical flavoured number inspired by her granddad who was a 1st class steward on a luxury line, part narrated by While, part by his daughter Moira whose wedding he paid for with one last world trip with the chorus in his voice. Her second is the bluesy acoustic blue swing of ‘Tyre Tracks In The Snow’, a kiss-off to an apathetic and disengaged lover (“I was looking for paradise/But you’ve turned into a block of ice… you’re melting away, getting worse each day”).
For the first of her two numbers, Watson takes the lead on her self-penned ‘The Society Of St Wilfrid And Hilda’, a huskily sung piano, organ and upright bass accompanied jazzy shuffle which takes a pop at the titular (though now just The Society) independent association of Church of England clergy which rejects the ordination of women, unequivocally telling them to “take your blessings and shove ‘em”, her Roman Catholic roots showing in the line “we’ve got our hands on the monstrance”, a reference to the vessel used to hold the consecrated eucharistic host. Her second closes the album with the swayingly slower but equally jazzy organ-backed ‘Kaolin Queens’, with lyrics by (presumably) daughter Kathleen which, going by the title, would appear to be a reflection on female friendship and the paths taken by “four moor’d vessels and one gone sailing”, past queens of the annual Washington festival who “bridges broken in times and places/Still connect our common ground.”
Turning to the earthier-voiced Harrold, featuring the others on soaring backing vocals with organ swirl, steady beat percussion and sparse repeated strummed guitar notes, ‘Back Into Life’ initially seems to be addressing a creative crisis (“I’m looking for something left over/That I might have thought of/But forgot to write down/A dream or some kind of vision/That led me to this life of singing/Has gone to ground”) but then reveals what feels like an eco call to rebirth mother nature (“what lies buried deserves a fresh start”) and “bring her back into life”. Nature imagery (with a second mention of larks) and rebirth also inform her second track, the spare, tentative piano-backed ‘January Waiting’ (“The dark it seems relentless/No hope this season brings/Have faith the world is turning/And soon will come the spring”).
The last to take her bow, accompanying herself on keys, the first to feature Matthews and from whence the album title comes is ‘Kwop Kort’, inspired by and dedicated to singer-songwriter Gina Williams, an Australian aboriginal of the Noongar nation whose parents and grandmother were part of the country’s Stolen Generations, never allowed to speak their language, which she now keeps alive through her music, the refrain “kwop koort moorditj koorliny” loosely translating as “big beautiful heart’.
Her second number, and the album’s remaining track, brings to the front the underling thread of female empowerment with the moody, curling folk smoke of ‘I’m Sick Of This Shit’ (the repeated refrain), a slow burn, anger-fuelled number attacking the ‘well she was asking for it’ mentality (“Her skirt’s too short, her top’s too tight/She shouldn’t walk alone at night”) commonly rolled out in rape cases (“her voice said no but her eyes said yes”), calling for an end to making excuses and shifting the blame as she sings “we are our mothers, daughters, sisters and wives…you should be calling out your brother/Pulling up your friend, not sitting on the fence”. An album most definitely worth bearing arms.
Artists’ website: www.daphnesflight.co.uk