Release Date: 23rd August 2019
Label: Red Dress Records
Formats: CD, DL
We look back at an album that appeared at the end of last month from an artist who’s recently been causing some ructions (good ones) in the folk music world.
Best known for her work as part of Lady Maisery, Coven and in a duo with sister Anna, 2019 has been a year where Rowan has followed a different path. She’s premiered her one-woman show, Dispatches On The Red Dress and enjoyed a run at the Edinburgh Festival ahead of the new album which also features songs from the live show.
It’s an unusual and bold move for her not to draw on traditional folk music and to present ten original songs. The result is a patchwork of experimental folk that draws on expectations and prior knowledge with a batch of twists and turns that are certainly unexpected. The themes include history, war, family, birdsong sorrow and hope. Reaching out beyond the folk boundaries, she explores sounds that are provided by collaborators Michelle Stoddart of The Magic Numbers , experimental percussionist Laurence Hunt and electronic musician Robert Bentall.
The result is a hybrid that skirts jazz, classical, electronic and indie sounds that strike from the instant What Birds Are emerges from the speakers; Singing against a drone, a patter of percussion and sawing fiddle there are chilling words about looking skywards to see what’s coming. Check the cover art carefully; amidst the silhouettes of the birds, you’ll spot a fighter plane and a bomber or two. Lines extends the experimentation with as Jack McNeill takes the clarinet to places it rarely goes and as the sequence slowly builds and intensity through stark and sparse arrangements. Despite several compositions that shift the goalposts in terms of extended arrangements that challenge and burrow deep into the emotions, the centrepiece may well be the two and a half minute Sky. The strength is in its simplicity and accompanying the words of Etty Hillesum (A victim of oppressions and persecution who died in Auschwitz) are the sounds of children playing in a park that create a brief chill.
Almost inevitably, there are political implications as our troubled and turbulent times are inevitably linked whilst reinforcing the qualities of resilience and hope but amidst the ambitious experimental soundscapes is the raw rootsy Sorrow. One that sounds like it should have been composed while sitting on a rocking chair on a West Virginia cabin porch.
With backing from Women Make Music through the PRS Foundation and Arts Council England, their funding is money well spent. When the year’s end comes round and those in the corridors of power are assembling their picks of 2019, don’t be surprised if The Lines We Draw Together is in the running.
Listen to Fire from the album:
Rowan Rheingans online: