In following up her her 2018 solo debut (after trading as Forestbrook), the County Down singer-songwriter has put the focus more on original than traditional material and also reached out to collaborate with both avant-garde Nordic composer Arve Henriksen and electronic duo Isan, both of who are credited on the front cover of The Man In The Mountain..
Drawing on her fascination for folk mythology, it opens with the breathingly sung ‘The Green Man’ featuring Anne Garner on flute and cellist Richard Curran intermingling with Myles Cochran’s steel guitar to create a heady yet ethereal soundscape, while a more specific Irish folklore is addressed in the intoxicating harp and drones coloured title track which speaks to the legend of Finn McCool, “the giant of the summer time…fighting with the giant of the winter/All the way across Carlingford Lough”.
Isan, Robin Saville and Antony Ryan, feature on two tracks, the first casting the mythology references wider for the nuclear fusion as metaphor for love song ‘Falling For Icarus’ (finally making it to disc after earlier versions were rejected for the previous albums) with its pulsing drone and bubbling electronics providing the percussive textures as McVittie’s voice swoops and soars, somewhere between Kate Bush and Sally Oldfield. The second is closer to home, a reimagining of the 14th-century Irish folk song ‘Eileen Aroon’, their electronics and her shimmering plucked harp forging an ineffable beauty.
A second traditional Irish number gets a makeover with a sparse arrangement of ‘The Lark In The Clear Morning’ which marries Henriksen experimental trumpet exhalations and electronics with her sustained phrasings to create a pastoral ambience befitting the setting.
It’s not just folk mythology that serves as influences or allusions here. The lazy, indolent mood of ‘Secretly, Between The Shadow And The Soul’ with its cut-up vocals borrows its title from a Pablo Neruda sonnet, while ‘ So Be It When I Shall Grow Old’, featuring an almost spectral cello and flute arrangement, borrows its title from the opening line of Wordsworth’s My Heart Leaps Up as she sings of monkey puzzle trees and gathering acorns under mighty oaks.
Then the five-minute plus flute and harp instrumental ‘Strange And Forgotten Things Of The Moor’ is a nod to Henry Williamson, author of Tarka The Otter but also Tales of Moorland and Estuary, while the melancholic closing track ‘When Glamour Hid Her Gaze’, which twins her harp and voice with electronics and composer Hutch Demouilpied’s muted trumpet, nods to the penultimate line in Siegfried Sasson’s poem Solar Eclipse.
The remaining track is ‘In The Secret Garden’ which may or may not have anything to do with Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel but, a sensual love song enfolded within harp and cello, it is no less full of enchantment as McVittie extends the notes like vines stretching up the side of a wall.
It would be easy to pigeonhole her alongside other folktronica artists such as Beth Orton, Caribou and Tunng, the latter one of her direct influences, but there’s an artistry and vision here that is clearly in a class of its own.
Artist’s website: http://bronamcvittie.corkbots.com/
‘The Green Man’ – official video: