We take a listen to the second album by Salt House. The trio from Inverness-shire and Shetland, comprise Jenny Sturgeon on vocals, harmonium, pump organ, guitars, piano and dulcimer, Ewan Macpherson on vocals, acoustic and electric guitars and dulcimer and Lauren MacColl on viola, fiddle, vocals and glockenspiel.
Release Date: 20th March 2020
Label: Hudson Records
Formats: CD / DL
Listing the trio’s lineup does little to prepare the listener for the sheer beauty of the sound they produce, or the poignant quality of the songs they write.
Huam (the word is Scottish Gaelic and means “the call of an owl”) is a wonderful album, containing an inspired mix of band compositions and quasi-traditional tunes, composed by the band and added to traditional lyrics.
The eclectic selection of instruments blend exquisitely together on each of the songs and the vocals from Ewan and Jenny (both of which are enchanting) are prominent at the front of the mix, as befits the thought-provoking lyrics.
I feel that I must give particular mention to the quality of both Jenny’s (The Disquiet and The Same Land) and Ewan’s (All Shall Be Still, If I Am Lucky and Union of Crows) compositions. It is these that, at least for me, tip the album from being merely excellent into being outstanding.
There is no filler on this album. All the tracks are melodically assembled and beautifully delivered. The band’s publicity material points out the echoes of Pentangle and Dick Gaughan that are detectable in the sound and these resemblances are clearly evident, particularly in the uncannily Pentangle-like William and Elsie, a sublime adaptation of the Danish ballad, Aage And Elsie.
In All Shall Be Still, Ewan delivers evocative lyrics about the need and desire to escape daily noise and turmoil on top of a fingerpicked guitar backing and some wonderful fiddle flourishes. On If I Am Lucky, he ponders the quandary of waiting for luck to intervene to resolve looming adversity – either personal or universal. It’s very powerful stuff.
Whilst Ewan’s songs tend to fall into the archetypal singer-songwriter genre, Jenny’s have a more traditional flavour, particularly The Same Land which overlays a lyric concerning the slow march to freedom from conflict over a self-composed tune that could have come from the vaults of James Skinner.
Of the adapted traditional numbers, a favourite is probably Mountain Of Gold, a tune that engages some beautiful fiddle from Lauren and sweet harmonies from Jenny and Ewan. It tells a story of finding winter sanctuary whilst awaiting the onset of Spring. It’s a song that would bring comfort to the coldest winter night and evokes images of huddling around a log fire with a glass of full-bodied red wine whilst the snow piles up outside.
A review of Huam would not be complete without giving credit to the masterful standard of production achieved by Andy Bell. Andy is one of the folk genre’s foremost producer-engineers and he has excelled on this album. He has worked previously with, amongst many others, Seasick Steve and Bellowhead and he has applied the best of his craft and experience to help deliver this album.
Huam is the band’s second album and, if you like the album as much as I do, you may also wish to check out their 2018 offering, Undersong.
Listen to Fire Light from the album here: