TWELFTH DAY – Face To Face (Orange Feather Records OFR005)

Face To FaceTwelfth Day’s Face to Face creates a new element on the folk periodic table. There’s a nice current angle to this music that embraces traditional folk, classical, jazz, and off-kilt(er) Scottish sounds.

Years ago, Peter Gabriel’s first album was advertised with the promotion “Expect the unexpected”. Well, that’s the gist of this record, too. Twelfth Day is a dual of Esther Swift on harp and Catriona Price on fiddle, while both women share vocals. Well, I half-expected a rather folk purist Greentrax or Fellside recording. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that! I love those Wrigley sisters! And ditto for Fribo or anything ex-Ossian William (aka Billy) Jackson does. But this is a very different and a very “unexpected” Scottish ale.

The first song, ‘Keep Me’, sets the weird template: This isn’t pop music, but it hums into the brain. There’s an intersection of early Kate Bush, Kate Rusby, and jazz vocalist Norma Winstone. The song has a very modern folk pulse, which is fleshed out with percussion and bass.

The jazzy vibe continues. ‘What’s Real’, oddly enough, finds the main instruments—the fiddle and harp—propelling the music into folk cosmos, while the harmony vocals sweeten the take-off. This is simply lovely music that avoids just about any cliché that comes to mind. And the harp becomes positively percussive in its pluck! ‘Fact of Life’ goes deeper into the soft atmosphere of folk jazz. The same is very true for the wonderous ‘Deep Dark Beast’. This tune touches the fears of old sacred wood fires with the very best of catchy and clever fiddle music.

And then – Oh my! The brief ‘The Plough’ floats on cushioned tension. It’s a melodic glance at a falling star. ‘Oma’, too, is instrumental and flows with highland free spirit. Odd: the fiddle/harp interplay of these songs recalls the absolute beauty of the quiet King Crimson Larks’ Tongues in Aspic moments when David Cross’s violin slow danced in a glade of solace, which juxtaposed Fripp’s tough guitar logic. There’s also an echo of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘Lark Ascending’ and its classical ethos. That’s heavy breathing for a folk album!

Now, speaking of mathematics (as one often does in the middle of a record review): Archimedes of Syracuse, known for his big “Eureka” comment after inventing the theory of water displacement, also (sort of) created calculus and its measured pursuit of circular perfection. That’s what this album does: As said, it’s musical calculus with a fresh folk angle that still sings harmony (even after all these years) with that old chestnut of a tune that hopes, with eternal passion, that “the circle will be unbroken”. We humans love that perfect circumference.

That said, ‘Superwoman’, again, bounces with un-expected jazzy exuberance. This one simply soars with vocals and a heavenly fiddle.

In contrast, ‘East’ is solemn and bobs like a life jacket in an un-forgiving sea. It touches the quietude of The Medieval Babes in their more spiritual moments.

The title track, ‘Face To Face’, certainly justifies its seven-minute multi-part (almost) classical folk groove. The tune is a pilgrimage into some sort of really nice shrine. Once again, the fiddle/harp dialogue orbits several planets, as two gifted folk players run through the moves of a pretty great chess game.

‘In a Bar’ is acapella heaven in its brief breath.

The curtains close with ‘Reset Butten’. The song stretches the folk rubber band a bit. The antenna needs to be adjusted. There are maudlin vocals and a minor key starched music hall melody that ends the record with an uneasy paintbrush stroke. Perhaps, that’s the point.

So, folk purists, “Expect the unexpected’ with this album.

Bill Golembeski

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‘Superwoman’ – official video: