Subtle class from Alex Hart and friends on Visions.
Release Date: 20th September 2023
Format: digital / CD / vinyl preorder
“The Stevie Nicks of Folk” is quite a label to live up to. Thanks Mr Mark Radcliffe, although clearly meant as a compliment. Whatever the expectation, the UK country/Americana market is a stronger place for Alex Hart’s presence.
Martin Barre (featuring on the Summery single Strangers And Lovers), Seth Lakeman and Benji Kirkpatrick (whose own new solo album is also imminent) all make guest appearances. Alex of course, is familiar enough with Seth and Benji from being a regular touring partner in the terrific trio to bring their contribution to play, subtly enhancing her songs without overpowering the quality of the songwriting.
Visions is a set of songs co-written with Josiah J Manning, who also produces – a deceptively easy collection that lulls with a gentle acoustic palette; peaceful and organic, yet as Alex says, it’s also an album about “feeling powerful and overcoming hard situations and difficult hurdles.”
Give Yourself is a choice opening cut. The first of several featuring Seth, it’s what you might expect of the heady and potent combination of Hart/Lakeman. The rustic rumble of wooden instruments sets the tone as Seth adds an aching fiddle to Fix This (as well as possibly some percussive banjo decoration). Taking a more measured tempo, amidst the feel of resignation, there’s a steely determination about the lyric and a rare, almost unnoticeable hit of percussion adding backbone.
Making good use of her musical connections, Benji cameos with a ringing contribution to Blackbird. Another lovely and lively acoustic piece evolving from the period of isolation that contains some nice flourishes – listen out carefully just after the “walk down to the garden” line. “If I can’t see you again, I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” she laments on Losing You that in a less is more arrangement that revisits and contemplates the feeling of isolation and loneliness.
Old Man shares a title and vibe with the Neil Young song and for anyone who doesn’t wig, it IS the Neil Young song. It stirs the thought that she might strike (a heart of) gold with an unplugged set of classic NY numbers. It’s perfectly placed to segue neatly into the NY-esque Wild, which given the familiar Lakeman sawing away at the fiddle accompaniments alongside an intense blues inflected arrangement, provides an album highlight. Talk of wicked and cruel scavengers, and posing the question “Do you believe in a fairytale end?” darken the mood. Brooding and desolate, it sits within the Hollis Brown book of desperation that’s the ‘devil at the crossroads’ antidote to some of the more Summery and carefree moments offered on Visions. Can’t beat a bit of menace and threat.
And with that in mind, the calm after the storm, the sunshine after the rain of Tilly’s Song ensures we’re brought to a fitful conclusion. Maybe visions of a return to the peaceful Devon countryside, accompanied by a dreamy and warm “I know you so well, you’ll always be around.” A fine place to sign off on an album that’s a constant box of delights.