Swoony chantoozie with melodic charm aplenty, Ceitidh Mac, makes more indelible her mark, on EP number two.
Release Date: 10th November 2023
Format: CD / Digital
One thing these islands seems currently in no short supply of is decent young female singer-songwriters. Often from a background defined as folk, often of the traditional sort, they are unafraid of experimentation and innovation. We have featured a fair few at At The Barrier, what with Frankie Archer, Chloe Matharu and Maddie Morris, naming but three. Here’s another to add to the list.
Ceitidh Mac first came to my attention via the sampler/fundraising album Scotland’s Knockengorroch Festival put out, in the midst of the pandemic, as they had to shift from live to virtual. Cello, vibraphone and percussion is quite a heady mix of instrumentation, especially when topped by her ever so slightly woozy tones, a slightly muffled mellow croon. Often described as delicate, that is true only in the sense of appearing to be light, totally belieing the penetrance she has at her command, cutting across any extraneous background and to the front.
Welsh by birth and backround, it is cross countries to Tyneside that she has made her base, becoming, amongst other things, artist in residece at Gateshead’s fabled venue, The Glasshouse, possibly better known under its previous incarnation as The Sage. A festival favourite, she has graced the aformentioned Knockengorroch, on the restoration of normal service, as well as, this year, Purbeck Valley, Kendal, Shambala and Green Man, the latter being just the sort of vibe she is most at home. Indeed, she has already secured a return spot for that Welsh counter-cultural favourite in Bannau Brycheiniog. But don’t bother looking, the festival has already sold out!
With six songs, the first five are new, the last track being a reprise of the earlier released Goldfinches, dating from last year. But we’ll get to that, the new songs being more pressing. Jump In starts acapella, her voice a smoky shimmer, before some moody synth tones creep in, a sprinkling of vibes and some juicy upright bass. But, of course, it isn’t, being her fingerpicked cello. She double tracks some octave harmonies, before she brings her cello deep into the mix, cross cutting chords in a melody that vies with what sounds like a pipe organ, and some pounding tom toms. The lyric simply repeats one short verse and it is deliciously hypnotic.
Seedling is balanced out with acoustic tenor guitar, and, not for the first time, there is an echo of a slightly clearer Beth Orton. Some shuffling drums add their weight, the plucked cello back with further dense foundation. Cello, now bowed, sweeps through for the mid section, and more Ceitidhs join in for an interweaving chorus: “oh, I like it down here; below ground“. The overall sound as organic as that reference.
A descending bass line is the only accompaniment of Heliotrope, at least as it opens, a moody hum of synthesizer moaning in the background. Vibes tinkle and a second voice, that of London based singer, B-ahwe. coos around Mac’s lead vocal, in an upper register. There is a hint of Billie Holiday about the shape and structure of the song, a mix of Strange Fruit and Summertime entering, unbidden, to my ears. Utterly beguiling. Bulldog then hits the ground hard, with a thump, a harsher song that checks the financial strife of last winter, addressing this directly, a repetitive squall of bass, vibes and percussion.
Needing some lightness, Sail Away is a rhythmic near samba, the cello and drums having fun with the tempo, making a slow song fast. Swells of orchestration, real and electronic, add further lustre. Midway sees the entrance of a riff that, in its simplicity, two, maybe three notes repeated again and again, nails itself to the sided of the song. Mac’s voice is more insistent on this one, the realisation that she’s a keeper breaking through. Goldfinches finally, starting like some vintage Neil Young, the arrangement maintaining that, give or take some burbles of electronica and effects. Slightly different in the overall feel to the other songs, I am uncertain which Ceitidh I prefer. The dropped Ts of her estuary English delivery are a more tangible portent to the current, the song building to a sudden end, when the silence becomes deafening.
I used the word beguiling before, that sticking as the best overall summation. All in all, this is a very promising second set of songs, an eventual full length something to be looked forward to. Full marks for the clean studio handling of Sam Grant, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs and Julian Dawson, producing all but the Calum Howard helmed Goldfinches. Mac plays the cello, tenor guitar and synths, with Will Hammond playing the vibes, drum duties shared between he and Francesca Knowles.
Here is Goldfinches: