JOSIE DUNCAN & PABLO LAFUENTE – The Morning Tempest (Own Label JDP2018CD)

The Morning TempestThe Morning Tempest, the debut album from Josie Duncan and Pablo Lafuente follows on from their 2016 EP, Half Of What You See. Arising, as is increasingly the case these days, from out of a successful crowdfunding campaign, it serves to illustrate the enormous amount of interest in this duo at the moment.

There’s a wonderful lightness of touch all over this album. Lafuente’s playing style carries traces of his native Spain in its delicacy, whilst Duncan has a voice of pure clarity, tipped with that softly rolling Lewis accent. The live-recorded ‘Uamh An Oìr’ (“Cave Of Gold”), illustrates just how well Lafuente’s sensitive, fluid guitar supports the gentle strength of Duncan’s vocal. There’s a subtle interplay of the other band members and guest artists across the remaining tracks as they deliver admirably well-judged and uncluttered support: all the parts kept crisply audible in the production.

Even the more well-known traditional songs, like opener ‘The Night Visiting Song’ (the source of the album’s title), Child ballad ‘King Orfeo’, and ‘He Called For A Candle’ are refreshed here by brisk and lively renditions. There’s strong emphasis on rhythm, peaking with the astonishing vocal control and rapid-fire agility of final song ‘Potato Puirt’. This mash-up of elegies to the humble spud also contains an “Easter egg” – a two-minute long lacuna that culminates in an uncredited gem just before the 6 ½ minute mark. It’s an atmospheric take on ‘The Fisherman’s Lassie’ and, with its overlay of laughter and synth-like percussion, it’s the most “produced” sounding song here, contrasting markedly with what’s gone before.

‘He Fades Away’, Alistair Hulett’s cutting polemic, becomes a real show-stopper here. Duncan’s youthful vocals might suggest a break-up song with the opening lines, “There’s a man in my bed, I used to love him, His kisses used to take my breath away”, but that only makes the full impact of this dying man, ruined by mining and unlikely to live to see any compensation, all the more crushing, “They never told him the cost of bringing home his weekly pay”. The muted flugelhorn and cello accompaniment follow on the deceptive simplicity of the lyrics to pack a real emotional gut-wallop.

Canadian song ‘Kerosene Light’ somehow manages to be both sentimental and clear-eyed, its nostalgia tempered with the harshness of the life it celebrates in lyrics like “sometimes love bloomed and sometimes dreams died by the glow of the kerosene light”.

Duncan’s own song, ‘The Great Escape’ is complemented beautifully by Colin Macleod’s tender vocal and indicates that she’s a more than capable songwriter on her own account.

This is a bright, airy, confident and sure-footed debut that will only cement Josie Duncan and Pablo Lafuente’s growing live reputation and build on their well-deserved 2017 Radio 2 Folk Awards win.

Su O’Brien

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‘The Great Escape’: