Karine Polwart announces a new album

Karine Polwart

Karine Polwart today announces her forthcoming new album Scottish Songbook, due for release on August 2, 2019 through Hegri Music. The follow-up to her acclaimed 2018 album Laws Of Motion – which drew standout reviews, including Mojo Folk Album Of The Year – the new project captures multi-award winning songwriter and musician, theatre maker and published writer Polwart reimagining a clutch of tracks which span over sixty years of Scottish pop. Spawned from Karine’s much-praised 2018 Edinburgh International Festival live show of the same name, Scottish Songbook draws together her interpretations of classic tracks by the likes of John Martyn, Chvrches, Strawberry Switchblade and Biffy Clyro. The album details arrive today alongside the latest single from the album, Polwart’s version of ‘Women Of The World’ by Ivor Cutler. Karine – a six-time winner at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, including 2018 Folk Singer of The Year – will launch the album alongside a performance at this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival on August 2, 2019, ahead of a UK headline tour including London’s Barbican on November 27, 2019 (on sale March 15).

Recorded at Chem 19 (where the likes of Franz Ferdinand, King Creosote and Teenage Fanclub have all cut albums), Polwart’s Scottish Songbook features regular band mates Steven Polwart and Inge Thomson, alongside Graeme Smillie (bass and keys), Calum McIntyre (kit and percussion) and Louis Abbott of Admiral Fallow (vocals, guitar & percussion). The sextet’s hymnal interpretation of cult Scottish singer Cutler’s ‘Women Of The World’ arrives alongside the first of a series of blogs Karine will be publishing via Medium throughout the month, inspired by trailblazing Scottish women. The first – published today just ahead of International Women’s Day (March 8, 2019) – is Polwart’s tribute to Mary Brooksbank. A much-revered political activist and songwriter, Brooksbank is the only woman to have her words inscribed alongside the likes of Robert Burns and Edwin Morgan – on the Writer’s Wall at the Scottish Parliament. Polwart first came across Brooksbank’s legacy in the late nineties when – seeking an outlet from the pressures of her work at Scottish Women’s Aid safeguarding the victims of domestic abuse – she attended an evening class called ‘Women and Folksong’.

Speaking about the interplay between Cutler’s simple, resonant lyrics to ‘Women Of The World’ and Brooksbank’s struggles for women’s rights, Polwart says;

“The social and health care jobs most of us inhabited were precisely those that Mary fought for, at a time when infant mortality in Scotland’s industrial towns and cities was close to 20%, and the NHS and the Welfare State were but a dream. The act of singing in community with others in that draughty old school was physically, emotionally and politically restorative for all of us. For me, it is still. Indeed, it’s why I sing.”

Karine has collaborated with Scottish visual artist Jen Frankwell to create a series of multi-layered artworks to accompany Scottish Songbook. Created using a miscellany of items including postcards, pin badges, statistical data and textile remnants, Frankwell’s thoughtful montages cut to the heart of the issues surrounding community, dignity, purpose, mental health and hope that Polwart’s body of work continues to shine a light on.

You can read Part 1 of Karine’s blog here and Part 2 here.

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‘Women Of The World’:

KARINE POLWART – Laws Of Motion (Hudson Records HUD014)

Laws Of MotionKarine Polwart’s latest CD – Laws Of Motion, released on 19th October 2018 – is her seventh release. It is co-produced by Karine with Inge Thomson (who, along with Karine’s brother Steven Polwart, seems to have provided most of the additional instrumentation for the album) and Stuart Hamilton, and it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.

The CD came as a promo copy without a lyric sheet and composer credits, but from the publicity sheet I received I gather that some of the songs were co-written with Lau’s Martin Green, while there’s one I know to be a cover version. I guess the others are Karine’s own. She says “I didn’t set out to write songs on a unified theme – they’ve just landed that way. Perhaps that’s no surprise, given the times we’re in.” And in fact the themes of migration and war seem to predominate here.

  1. ‘Ophelia’ is an atmospheric song with a setting far removed from Hamlet’s Denmark. Australia, I guess, with its references to desert wind and eucalyptus? Perhaps it’s just that other songs here reflect the fear of nuclear apocalypse, but for some reason it suddenly reminded me of Neville Shute’s On The Beach.
  2. ‘Laws of Motion’, co-written with Martin Green, movingly observes the plight of the migrant.
  3. ‘I Burn But I Am Not Consumed’ is an epic mixture of spoken and sung lyric that addresses the 45th President of the US with the voice of “the ancient rock beneath the Isle of Lewis, birthplace of Trump’s mother, Mary Ann Macleod.” My guess is that Mr T. will not appreciate its pitiless analysis and reminder of his immigrant roots, if he ever hears it. But I do, very much.
  4. ‘Suitcase’ further develops the theme of migration, being about the Kindertransport, the rescue initiative that brought so many (mostly Jewish) children to the UK between Kristallnacht and 1940. The shadow of the death camps lies heavy on this intense lyric.
  5. ‘Cornerstone’ instructs us to “Tread lightly as you pass on by, and listen” – and yes, I think you should.
  6. Shinzaburo Matsuo sailed to Scotland after losing his family in Japan’s 1923 earthquake, and tended Isabella Christie’s celebrated Japanese garden until his death in 1937. The story is told in the beautiful ‘Matsuo’s Welcome To Muckhart’.
  7. I’m not sure what story lies behind the landscapes of ‘Young Man On A Mountain’ but it doesn’t seem to matter: the evocative lyric is carried perfectly by the melody and arrangement.
  8. ‘Crow On The Cradle’ will be familiar to old folkies: it’s Sidney Carter’s anti-war song, and well worth revisiting. Especially when it’s as beautifully performed as this, with some twists of melody and lyric that would somehow make it uniquely Karine’s own, even without the startling harmonies of the final bars.
  9. ‘The Robin’ takes a deceptively gentle melodic approach to a thoughtful lyric.
  10. The stunning ‘Cassiopeia’ takes much of its power from the contrast of spoken extracts from the 1979 leaflet Protect And Surviveissued by the Home Office during the Cold War with the fearful, unanswerable questions of a 9-year old“. One reviewer has dismissed the track as “perhaps fighting yesterday’s battles“, but I’m not sure we should be assuming now that “we are going to be survivors” any more than we should have done then. Strangely, the juxtaposition of speech and synth reminded me a little of Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds, but that doesn’t in any way reduce its impact.

Though Karine’s vocals and the instrumental work here are never less than perfect, this isn’t, perhaps, easy listening. Not, at any rate, if you pay attention to the words (as you should), though there are some fine melodies here. But Laws Of Motion is a CD that will repay close attention and repeated plays.

David Harley

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


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Artist’s website: www.karinepolwart.com/

‘Ophelia’ – official video: