Bella Hardy returns to traditional ballads on her tenth solo album.
Release date: 8th July 2022
Label: NOE Records
Format: digital / CD
Tenth solo record? It’s hard to believe how the time has passed. As someone once said, who knows where the time goes? Folk Singer of the Year award box ticked, a ‘Best Of’ in the bag, a lyric book and now a family (two dogs and a baby), Bella Hardy has built up quite a legacy. We’ve only scratched the surface too as you can add the Elizabethan Sessions and the Carthy, Hardy, Farrell & Young albums as the pick of several other projects and happenings. And so it continues; ever onward, but in a manner that on this occasion, finds her looking back.
Love Songs comes as a result of three days of recording – just like things should be done – and returning to simple and self-accompanied singing, Love Songs is very much a labour of love. And not ‘love’ songs per se, but songs she loves; songs that are so ingrained in her DNA that it comes as a surprise it took as long as three days to record.
Heralded by the curtain-raiser Summer Daylight Winter Darkness, the mournful fiddle and piano are billed as Cave/Ellis-esque and you can appreciate the comparison. A piece just awaiting a heartfelt and aching vocal glistening on top. From there on in, the oral tradition and storyteller’s themes of shoemakers on sea voyages, penniless lovers, industry and war are all narrated with the passion and guile of a singer whose engagement with the songs is complete.
The arrangements are deceptively simple. Less is more and a wealth of experience comes into play as the simplicity (and exquisite playing) is the key to the impact of these songs. Be it gently picked guitar (check Hares On The Mountain) or sprightly fiddle-led arrangements (My Johnny Was A Shoemaker) or songs that can’t fail to induce a feeling of goodwill (Sprig Of Thyme), Love Songs is a warming and intimate experience.
The common factor is the vocal which shows a maturity and richness as well as a genuine empathy for the songs. Bella isn’t simply singing them, she’s inhabiting them and giving them a fresh breath of life. Tom Gibbs’ clarinet adds delicate touches – the easy flow alongside the guitar picking Awake Awake and the flutter he adds to a stately The Navigator’s Bride spring immediately to mind, while Bella makes her voice the single focal point with a simple unaccompanied vocal on Lowlands Away.
Like the evolution of the songs themselves, Love Songs feels like we’ve encountered a Bella Hardy who’s come full circle. “It’s almost as if these are the songs that were left off the first record,” Bella says. Understated yet uplifting and thoroughly beguiling.
Here’s Bella’s signature, The Herring Girl: