Piano and voice isn’t a combination that you hear much in the folk idiom and yet it can be just as potent – if not more so – than a full band. Karine Polwart’s new album Still As Your Sleeping is just this, a duo album of piano and voice. Deceptively simple, yet devastatingly powerful.
Still As Your Sleeping is an intimate, stripped-back collection of songs Karine recorded with renowned pianist and composer, Dave Milligan. Although known primarily as a jazz pianist, Dave’s writing and arranging often distils folk and traditional influences, making him the perfect creative partner for Karine in what is very much a duo project. Both musicians live in the same Midlothian village of Pathhead and have known each other for years and the familiarity is evident in the music. It’s a magical combination, and as Karine says, “One voice and one piano can hold a lot of space, a lot of feeling.” It is also no coincidence that Jenni Douglas, who created the album’s gorgeous, evocative artwork, also lives in the same village.
An incredibly personal album, it was recorded less than ten minutes from Karine’s home. “It’s never felt more important to me to make music, and tell stories, from exactly where I am, with the people I live alongside, my friends and neighbours”. Of the 10 tracks that make up ‘Still As Your Sleeping’ some are old, some are new, but threaded through them all are images of stillness and flux, leaving and returning, and pivots of change. They range from original songs by Karine, such as ‘Travel These Ways,’ written for Luminate, Scotland’s festival of creative ageing, to other contemporary songs including ‘Old Men of the Shells’ by fellow Scot, Alasdair Roberts. There are also traditional songs – ‘Craigie Hill’ and the timeless and poignant ‘The Parting Glass’. Interestingly, it was Karine’s version of the latter that Margaret Atwood chose for her specially curated BBC Radio 4 Today programme in December 2020, and which also featured in a July 2021 edition of BBC Radio 4’s Soul Music. Karine sums the collection up by saying that many of the songs walk the edge of things. “People say goodbye to what they know, to loved ones, and perhaps even to life, whilst others are pulled back to the world of the living. There’s a deep sense of time too, both of those who went before us, and those who’re still to come”.
Karine’s previous solo release, 2019’s Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook reached the UK Top 40 album charts, and toured major UK venues, including The Barbican in London and The Usher Hall in Edinburgh (she is currently under commission by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh). Karine’s previous records have picked up awards and nominations from the likes of SAY, BBC Radio 2, CATS, Songlines, The Guardian, BBC Radio 3 and more. April 2018 saw Karine named BBC Radio 2 Folk singer of the year.
Artist’s website: https://www.karinepolwart.com/
Karine Polwart & Dave Milligan
August 22nd – Old College Quad Edinburgh International Festival
Karine Polwart with Steven Polwart & Inge Thomson
8th – Sage, GATESHEAD
9th – Cadogan Hall, LONDON
10th – Liverpool Philharmonic, LIVERPOOL
11th – Bury Met, BURY
12th – Town Hall, BIRMINGHAM
13th – St George’s Hall, BRISTOL
14th – The Gate, CARDIFF
15th – Theatre Severn, SHREWSBURY
16th – The Stables, MILTON KEYNES
17th – The Apex, BURY ST EDMUNDS