Linda Moylan – The Merchant: Album Review

Utterly beguiling second album from London/Irish songstress, Linda Moylan.

Release Date:  12th November 2021

Label: Talking Elephant Records

Formats: CD

Linda Moylan is a name to watch out for.  She’s a writer of perfectly-formed, thoughtful songs that deal with a range of themes, including her own personal and family experiences and stories of forgotten people and events from the past.  She also has a remarkable talent for interpreting well-known traditional songs in a way that makes you believe that you’re hearing the song’s definitive version for the first time and, best of all, she’s the owner of a truly beguiling voice that switches effortlessly between the sultry, the bluesy, the smoky and the unbelievably sweet – sometimes during the same song.

Originally from Waterford in south-east Ireland, Linda relocated, with her family, to East London during the 1980s.  Throughout her 20s, she performed blues and rock and roll in the pubs and clubs of London, before pairing up with Chris Wyatt – a meeting that led to the production and release of Linda’s first album, Shadow Lands, in 2015.  Along the way, she’s also released a couple of EPs and, in 2020, recorded a single – Freedom is a Woman – with the late Julie Felix, a record that was released just prior to Julie’s sad death in March 2020.

Linda’s new album, The Merchant, is, indeed, a work of great beauty.  It’s a collection of songs written in collaboration with Linda’s long-time co-conspirators Ian Montague, Eamon Gilmore and, of course, Chris Wyatt.  Phil Beer – a name that will be known to most At The Barrier regulars for his work in Show of Hands and with the Albion Band – has handled the production duties and also contributed some signature violin and guitar parts.  Musically, the album covers several bases; its gentle, folky theme prevails, but there are numerous excursions into jazz, blues and country and, always, that delightful voice is there to deliver the message.

Linda describes a list of influences that includes not only the usual singer-songwriter suspects like Leonard Cohen, Sandy Denny and Melanie, but also inspirations as diverse as Nina Simone, Hank Williams, Portishead and Ennio Morricone, plus the poetry of Ted Hughes.  Those influences are plainly audible throughout the 13 tracks that constitute The Merchant, and if I’m going to be pedantic, I’d also suggest that the emotion and sophistication of Laura Nyro manages to break the surface on a few of the songs as well!

Opening track, the enigmatic Old Black Boots, sets the mood perfectly.  The sparse-yet-perfectly adequate backing of strummed acoustic guitar and plodding bass is typical of the fare to come, there’s some nice slide guitar that adds to the mysticism of the song, and, above all, there’s the first taste of Linda’s rich, endearing vocals, switching effortlessly between sultry intimacy and soaring sweetness.  Straight away, you know that this is going to be good…

Linda is at her beguiling best on the soft, intimate, Sugar Water, before she introduces us to another aspect of her talent in the trad-sounding Auld Drag, a foot-tapping vocal duet with co-author Ian Montague that features some great violin and mandolin from, I assume, Phil Beer.  Staying with folk, Black is the Colour is one of two traditional songs included on the album, and Linda sings it beautifully.  The guitar/violin backing, sparing at first, picks up as the song progresses but, really, this one’s all about Linda’s voice, and she certainly delivers.

The almost-title track, Ordinary Merchants is, quite simply, stunning.  Another song with a sparse backing (and the sparseness suits these songs right down to the ground) it’s a song that is particularly notable for its biting, unsettling lyrics, with the refrain: “You think madness is pretty – baby, try to sleep in its bed.”  Quite scary and quite, quite, exceptional.  After the desolation of Ordinary Merchants, migration tale Big Hannah sounds rich and lush, especially when Phil’s violin and the soaring vocal harmonies kick in.

Linda’s voice, always outstanding, is, perhaps, at its sweetest during the Laura Nyro-like Hippodrome.  Subtle piano, guitar and resonant bass add real sophistication to that divine vocal.  The album’s press release refers to the “sultry Weimar cabaret inflections” that make their way into a number of the album’s songs, and those inflections are particularly evident on Push, a jazzy number with a vocal that is part spoken, part sung, a guitar part that slithers and slides, elastic bass and a violin part that lays a thick coat of icing on top of an already very rich cake.  And the passion rises and rises as the song reaches its climax.

In contrast, Mercy is sweet and intimate, a gentle, folky number built around a quasi-Flamenco guitar part and some nice, laid-back piano, and Linda’s voice is, once again, faultless.  Thinking On continues with the gentle mood; Eamon Gilmore’s spoken word echoes Linda’s vocals to create a wonderfully soothing effect and the piano and mandolin complete the picture.

Anyone who has ever been within a mile of an Irish Bar or a folk club, anywhere in the world, will surely know the traditional Star of the County Down, the second “trad” song that Linda has selected for The Merchant.  Well – I can guarantee that you’ve never heard it sung as wonderfully as this before.  To an almost percussive backing that includes a doleful whistle, Linda absolutely nails it – this must be the definitive version of an old, familiar favourite.  Simply breathtaking.

Penultimate track, Glittering Gold is nice and bluesy, and even starts to rock at it reaches its “Old woman who lived in the woods” climax, before Linda returns to Laura Nyro-like introspection for closing number The Eaves.  The light, happy piano line contrasts markedly with Linda’s smoldering voice on an intimate, jazzy song to end a truly excellent album.  The name Linda Moylan may be a new one to you; on The Merchant, she shows what she can do, and the world would do well to sit up and take note.  Linda Moylan is a stunning singer-songwriter, with a voice to die for.

Listen to Ordinary Merchants from Linda Moylan – a track from the album – here:

Linda Moylan: Website / Facebook / Instagram / YouTube

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