RACHEL CROFT – Hours Awake (Black Ink BI19001)

Hours AwakeA York-based singer-songwriter and illustrator, influenced by Celtic folk, Croft bookends her debut studio album (she previously released a live covers collection) with its two strongest, but highly contrastive, numbers. It opens with ‘Old Climbing Tree’, a dark and moody Celtic-inspired number, sparse hollow drums, violin and cello backdropping low vocals that seem to arise from cavernous bowers as a refrain which speaks of dreaming about times past is set against lines like “When the morning sun cleanses the dark inside clean/Green glass bottles lie by your cold tired knees”, and of holding on to hopes when the sand castles we build are washed away. Ten tracks later it closes with ‘Can’t Replace Your Perfect’, a laid back, soulful, gospel-tinged strummed number that echoes the former’s hints of a self-destructive personality (“You slip like water through my hands/Cos you don’t want no one to save you”) and calls to mind Gladys Knight’s singing ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’.

In-between, she offers a fairly diverse range of self-penned material, she playing guitar with backing musicians that include Emyln Vaughan on electric guitar, bass and double bass, violinist Emily Lawler, Karl Mullen on keys, Rachel Brown on cello and Neil Scott holding down the drums. ‘Hear Me’ was the first song she wrote back in 2014, a dreamily melodic, airy, gently fingerpicked and softly sung number that again plays on a note of supportiveness, while, a reflection on a relationship that was never meant to be (“This ain’t a love story but it don’t mean that I can’t tell it that way”), the melodically playful ‘In Blue’ conjures thoughts of early Joni Mitchell in both its title and musical form.

Her debut single, featuring co-producer Dan Webster on guitar, ‘Only Dreams’ is another, moody number underpinned by distant cello, rumbling drums and keys, Croft’s pure voice soaring on Judie Tzuke wings, followed, in turn, by ‘Don’t Feel Like Holding On’, a song about the sometimes impermanence and futility of love (with another image of castles in the sand) accompanied by melancholic cello and a muted train-rhythm drum beat.

Past relationships are also at the heart of the disarmingly beautiful fingerpicked chords of ‘Rainier Day’, another reflective number that balances both the determination to hold on (“The darkness hasn’t come to us quite yet”) and the acceptance of what has gone (“I’ve wasted years and years to try to make you proud of me, but I wouldn’t cut my hair for you or change my stupid clothes”), ending with the heart-aching line “I’ll save these tears ‘til I know you’ve gone to stay.”

A cello-backed folksier, soulful ballad with a slow sway rhythm, ‘Change Your Mind’ also treats on loss and being left behind, seeing relationships as being a natural cycle like the turning of the seasons, seeking not to cling on but simply hope things take a different turn.

By contrast to such introspection of the heart, ‘Hot Rain’, the newsiest song on the album, is a simple fingerpicked, ticking drum beat number on a theme of social inequality and labelling (“Welcome to the box that they have categorised you in/Be it who you choose to love or the colour of your skin”) and a reminder that the blame lies with others, not you.

She returns to the passing of time and impermanence for the slow march beat, Celtic-hued ‘Long Were The Hours’ with her descending vocal riffs, the musical mood continues on the sparse, wistful ‘6,000 Miles’, a mournful cello opening a lullaby of longing to “find the right someone to make you feel home” and be one of the couples sitting on benches, Nathan O’Grady providing the harmonies.

Imbued with sensuality, yearning, resignation, hope and a vulnerability that is both beguiling and painful to share, this launches a major new voice and songwriter on the international scene and, while it may take some time to seep into your veins, is assuredly going to prove one of the finest debuts of the year.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.rachelcroftmusic.com

‘Rainier Day’ – live:

Fran Wyburn releases her debut album next month

Fran Wyburn
Photograph by Maria Spadafora

After two successful EPs (Little Moments, 2014 and Postcards, 2016) produced by Toby Davies (Jorja Smith, Maverick Sabre, Gentlemans Dub Club) of which Folk Radio UK said of Postcards a ‘captivating listen and one I could happily lose myself in…’ Fran Wyburn is releasing her much anticipated debut album Wood For The Trees, 2nd March 2018 under her own label Yellow Door Records.

December 2017 saw the first single release from the album, ‘Foolish Sea’, where the music video (see below) was premiered on Folk Radio UK and received substantial airplay across the folk world.

Working with specialist folk and roots producer Dan Webster, Fran and musical collaborator George Birkett recorded the album over summer 2017.

Webster’s production perfectly brings to life the subtlety in the arrangements and the authentic and heart felt character of Fran’s music. The album takes us on an intimate and emotional journey of personal growth through life experience. Fran says she wants the album to be like ‘listening to a friend, snuggled up under blankets in front a fire and sipping tea’.

The songs are diverse and always offer something new displaying the full breadth of Fran’s writing. As an artist she is unafraid to stand alone with just her voice and guitar, as in ‘Me And Me’ and ‘Sorry Heart’. She takes you to extremes with dreamy joyful upbeat songs such as ‘Happy Forever After’ and ‘Mr Blackbird’. These songs demonstrate the full extent of her playful side and are in contrast to the more pensive and sombre songs like ‘Set Sail’ and ‘Pass On By’, where the piano becomes an instrument of harnessing a more darker energy to her music.

The album also offers cleverly and intricately arranged tracks with soaring ethereal multiple harmonies (Rosie Evans), tender cello (Rachel Brown), and sophisticated guitar (George Birkett), as in ‘Snowdrops’ and ‘Me’, ‘Rumi Said’ and ‘Foolish Sea’.

Fran’s musical collaborator George Birkett is an incredible folk guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, singer and arranger whose guitar plays a central voice to the album. His wonderful finger picking skill and her pure toned voice weave in and out of each other like an enchanting dance which complements the striking melodies and curious rhythms inherent in the album.

Wood For The Trees establishes Fran as an artist who has proved her weight in songwriting and it is no doubt that she has something new to offer the contemporary folk scene.

Her sound is idiosyncratic, conversational, melodically enticing and harmonically captivating. Forging a new sound that nods its head at alt folk whilst embracing influences from world music and sombre pop, Fran never fails to intrigue, entice and stimulate.

Inspired by the 1960’s folk revival, her style is current, original and spirited. She cites influences as wide as Joni Mitchell, Agnes Obel, Rokia Traroe. Kimya Dawson and Laura Mvula.

After working for many years in London Fran packed her life away, brought a guitar and traveled the world busking her way around it. Teaching herself as she went she started writing songs about her experiences and returned with a dream to be a touring a songwriter! Honing her craft at Leeds College of Music in a Masters in Composition and working with Ian Archer (Snow Patrol, Jake Bug, Gabrielle Aplin). Fran has finished a tour this winter of packed festivals and gigs including The Great British Folk Festival, Folk East, Green Gathering and Equinox.

Artist’s website: https://www.facebook.com/FranWyburn/

‘Foolish Sea’ – official video: