Bristol based Fritillaries are Hannah Pawson – lead vocals, guitar, banjo and harmonium – and Gabriel Wynne – guitar and mandolin – and this is their debut album. They are supported by Kit Massey, whose violins and piano make a major contribution to their sound, Andy Hamill on bass, producer Ru Lemer on synths and backing vocals by Anna Collette and John Blek.
Their instrumentation places them firmly in the realms of Americana but some of their songs are poetic and rather English which is an interesting juxtaposition. The opening track, ‘Unearthing’ is typical of their best work. Its opening line, “Hands searching in the dark and dirt” seems a bit mystical to me. What do you think? It develops rather more prosaically as Hannah reveals that she is working in the garden and has dug up a coin. That discovery catches her imagination and takes her somewhere, or rather somewhen, else and that really impresses me.
Much later, ‘Together In Flight’ is the real killer track. It inhabits the same timeless, mythological America that The Band sang about. It tells of coal mining and farming and marriage and bullies – and a woman who somehow saves the day. It has a mighty sound with what I think is octave violin roaring through the song like some dark Appalachian ballad. ‘In The Dark’ and ‘Waking’ come from that same landscape.
The single, ‘Head In Hands’, is built on Massey’s piano and has a bit of Kate Bush about it. Initially it feels very English but on reflection it could be set anywhere. The closing ‘Nights Are Drawing In’ is pretty much a pure country waltz with someone taking the steel guitar part on something else and Gabriel delivering a fine acoustic lead guitar break.
The opening and closing songs both include the word “fritillaries” but I’m not sure if the songs or the band’s name came first. Either way it’s a beguiling album full of mysteries.
Artists’ website: www.fritillaries.uk
‘Unearthing’ – official video: