Kelly Bayfield – Wave Machine : Album Review

Promising delayed debut from East Anglian singer, a chameleonic marriage of styles and influences, held together by her pure vocal integrity.

Release Date: 27th January 2023

Label: Self-released

Format: CD / digital

kelly bayfield

The name may be unfamiliar, the participants, or some of them, anything but. How many singers can claim the participation of players such as Phil Beer and the late Paul Sartin, let alone a personal favourite, cellist Beth Porter? Clearly, they could hear something in this miscellany of well-crafted songs, exquisitely arranged and put together, that encompass a number of styles and genres, and, at times, feel a throwback to the lavish production work of Sandy Roberton and his groundbreaking outcomes with Shelagh McDonald. And put so well together as to feel more than a session job.

Bayfield has been on the periphery a while, appearing at East Anglian shindigs like Maverick and Folk East, in any number of guises and collaborations, drawing comment with her classic English vocals, Americana often the field ploughed. This album, her debut? Well, a bit of everything. If you don’t like any of the songs, worry not, another’ll be along in a minute.

The opener, Vapour Trails, starts with finger-picked guitar and cello, her voice a clear peal, cutting through. Further strings coalesce with the cello, and oboe, from Sartin, take the weight between the verses, the balance and blend providing contrast. An arresting start, and the one that draws the McDonald comparison. Whistling Man is entirely different, held together with banjo and pedal steel, and epitomises her gift of merging anglicana with those country tropes. The appropriately named Andy Trill adds a spikily pleasant guitar solo. Again shifting the horizon, it is to wartime(s) in Blighty she then shifts, with John Mahony, a song that starts about her grandfather, progressing into later generations. It is one of those slightly maudlin songs that Simon Nicol sources, or, at any rate, sings, for Fairport, sentimental even, and it would be a cert, were the band ever to find it. (Have I said all the songs are written by Bayfield, either alone or with, usually David Booth?) Lovely flute, Toby Shaer, on this one.

Safe For Now has a veritable band of Sartins, he playing violin as well as woodwinds, a gentle song that has a celebratory feel about the musical flourish of the chorus. Lullaby then allows Bayfield to stretch her voice, for an almost hymnal feel. The sleevenotes give the stark realisation as to who the song is addressed; her husband, the father of their children, died, in 2019, of a brain tumour, that knowledge adding to the poignancy of the lyric. That sombre mood lingers for Harrier From The Marsh, with a piano dressing that draws in the additional instrumentation, Beer adding some long drawn-out fiddle notes, Ruth Wall some harp. Multi-tracking allows Bayfield to provide her own choir before Beer leaps off into a delectable solo. Bird Of Prey persists the avian theme, perhaps a slighter song, but lifted by the glorious muted trumpet and flugelhorn of Mats Hård. Some banjo entering towards the end adds further lustre.

Hitchhiker has a Carole King ambience instilled in it by the piano and Laurel Canyon arrangement, the ever so ’70s guitar from Mark Stuart, the whole a poppy song that might have appealed to our Tel, when he would routinely pluck lesser-known singers into the limelight, on his R2 breakfast show. Sing is in the same vein, if just piano and voice. Wave Machine brings back the sumptuous cello of Porter, together with what sounds, uncredited, a musical saw. A stronger song than some around it, it captures a mood of melancholy and reflection. again, unsurprising, given the sleeve note comments on its origin. Quite lovely.

Some upbeat steel guitar, this time from Nick Zala, introduces the East Angliana of Anything Less, a driving forward self- propelling song that, with an opening line of “Wish I’d paid more attention” digs in with hooks of immediacy. When Sartin’s oboe makes a late entrance, the thought arises that steel and oboe fit rather well together. Leaving only the sensitive Travelling to close, a minor key lament, again for her late husband. Strummed guitar embeds her vocal, a woodwind chorus, a team of Sartins, weaving no small emotional heft to the weight of the words. Lovely.

Bayfield says she was never sure whether these very personal songs were ever going to be for public consumption. Only now, with the support and participation of David Booth, responsible for producing the record, adding to lyrics and arrangements and, with Bayfield, playing most the instrumentation not already credited. If this is her debut, what next?

Here is a live trio performance of Wave Machine:

Kelly Bayfield online: website / facebook / twitter / Instagram

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