Karine Polwart and pianist Dave Milligan’s Still As Your Sleeping, in a non-literal biblical sense, is metaphorically, as pure as the Euphrates River on the third day of creation. This is Scottish folk song crystal-clear river euphoria.
It’s a lovely collection of traditional songs, as well as tunes by Karine and other writers. ‘Craigie Hill’ sets the tone for the album. The tune drips with farewell tears. Karine’s voice touches The Heart of Midlothian. And DM’s piano sings with the ghostly drama of an abandoned croft. This music sort of stops time. Then, ‘Heaven’s Hounds’ is breathless beauty – with an almost gospel purity. And ‘The Path That Winds Before Us’ is the stuff of spiritual contemplation, as it expands wisdom into the quiet understanding that “one breath and then another is all we need”. It’s piano voiced profundity.
‘The Parting Glass’ bids yet another universal farewell. Karine and Dave catch the throb of humanity. Everything, even the greatest love, must offer one final touch, one final glance, and simply wish a lover or friend “Good night and joy be with you all”. Folk music tends to say that sort of thing every once in a beautiful while.
Then the music gets even more intently human. Alisdair Roberts’ ‘The Old Man Of The Shells’ is a journey that bleeds into mysticism.
And speaking of journeys, Still As Your Sleeping, as a unified work, returns Karine to her deep folk roots. She, of course, sang with the Battlefield Band on their Happy Daze album, and her voice graced several records by Malinky. And then her solo works blossomed into singer-songwriter stuff that was clever, melodic, and highly (may I risk the word?) infectious! Truly, songs like, ‘Only One Way’ from Faultlines echoes the greatness of Thea Gilmore, and a song like ‘We’re All Leaving’ (co-written with Canada’s David Gunning!) from Traces, that quite frankly, makes a soul’s pulse love the profound pathos of our weary world just a little bit more and gives a welcome glimpse into a gifted Scottish singer’s vital and very contemporary art.
The traditional ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ punctuates that “ancient heart” (Thank you, Tanita Tikaram!) with a bouncy banter that pulls old testament verbs into a really nice and very modern vocabulary. ‘Sicar Point’ is a pensive (and sometimes whispered) sung-recited song, recalling the nature voiced album, A Pocket Of Wind Resistance, which Karine recorded with Pippa Murphy.
Now, because this is a folk review, it’s easy to overlook the other culprit here, Dave Milligan, a renown jazz player in his own right, who has worked with such diverse people as Art Farmer and Dire Straits guy, Mark Knopfler. His album, Momento, which he recorded with Danilo Gallo and U.T. Gandhi, touches folk music with jazzy workouts of ‘Parcel Of Rogues’ and Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye”. And, it’s just an observation, but his often sparce and emotive playing on this album is, quite simply, sublime.
That said, the final songs all echo the adage of (the great) Vin Garbutt’s rendition of his “mate”, Pete Bett’s song, ‘They Don’t Write ‘Em Like That Anymore’, of which Vin says, “These were the days before television took over the spot where the piano used to stand and people used to sing, rather than listen to records like yourselves”.
These songs certainly conjure those begone days. Karine’s voice caresses Kate McGarrigle’s ‘Take Me To Mendocino’, a song which pursues the American soul, and she truly touches the purity of Joni Mitchell, circa her very wonderful and introspective Blue album. Then, ‘Travel These Days’ is the rare bird of an ode to eternal love—without a pinch of schmaltz.
My friend, Kilda Defnut, said of the song, “Determined eyes wash windows of mutual souls in these lyrics”.
The final song, Robert Burns’ ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, is just another way to bid ado with “Deep in heart wrung tears”, which ironically, keeps spinning back again and again with countless lovely renditions. Of course, Robert Burns also said, “And I will come again, my love” because, well, he always says that.
Still As Your Sleeping is that “fond kiss’, and it has those “heart wrung tears”. And this music is also a “promise”, that in that non-literal biblical sense, is metaphorically, as pure as the Euphrates River on the third day of creation. So, yes, indeed, this album is a Scottish crystal-clear river flowing, again and again, into an eternal and ever spinning eddy of folk song euphoria.
Artist’s website: https://www.karinepolwart.com/home