The Magpies – Undertow: Album Review

The Magpies dance to a sprightly tune on Undertow.

Release Date: 14th October 2022

Label: Gilded Lily Records

Format: CD / digital

We reviewed The Magpies’ debut album Tidings a couple of years back. Since then, Polly Bolton has joined The Trials Of Cato (we patiently await Gog Magog) as the trio of Bella Gaffney, Holly Brandon and Kate Griffin forge purposefully onwards.

As champions of gender equality, the flag of feminism flies proudly through the course of Undertow. From the disguised female form on the cover to the solidarity, sisterhood, relationships and reflections which are all accompanied by the sound of Anglo-Americana. Bluegrass, Celtic, traditional and Appalachian brushstrokes provide a bright decoration to a colourful canvas.

And despite lockdowns, pandemics and hardships (there’s the lovely guitar tumble of If Time Were Money that sort of…’commemorates’ the occasion) the consolation is a vibrancy and defiant optimism that shines through. The explosion of banjo on the opening cut might see Kate Griffin being poached by Sam Kelly to create a double-edged duelling banjo attack with Jamie Francis. She also stars with the Dobro on the darker title track. Banjo duties are passed to Bella Gaffney and all the while as they chop and change, Holly Brandon provides the constant presence of fiddle, arching and aching in the background or cutting a high profile sharply though as she does on Solstice.

The Brandon forte comes to the fore on a couple of tunes that might see the more sprightly amongst us don the old dancing shoes. The Colin’s Set collection sees her fiddle upfront again as the trio kickstart the pulse on a trio of tunes

The trad material sees them taking on Fall On My Knees from the Appalachians which sounds as authentic as its source; the “won’t you come and stand by me line” and fiddle is gorgeous. I Will Never Marry from Ireland bounces along breezily and almost blues-ily while the English Hares On The Mountains is a lonesome melancholy reading, the subject matter – maidens transformed into creatures – thought-provoking as ever. And then some- as folk goes pop goes folk on The Eurythmics’ Sweet Deams. A case maybe of ‘expect the unexpected. Maybe they were jamming out and having some fun and just decided to share the moment – and why not!?

What Undertow provides is a skilfully balanced and much-needed shot in the arm. Whether it’s in the delicacy or in the sheer adrenalin rush, the three musicians have made a diagnosis and proffered a uplifting musical boost.

Here’s Colin’s Set from the album:

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