Lauren South – Tiny Boat: Album Review

Songs of love and friendship, motherhood, the natural world and the night sky – the debut from Warwickshire songstress Lauren South is a restorative for jaded times.

Release Date:  Available now

Label: Self Release

Formats: CD / Digital

Lauren South’s angelic voice, her perceptive and melodic songwriting and her interpretations of traditional material are all earning her an awesome reputation. Reg Meuross was recently moved to comment: “I love Lauren’s voice! It has a distinctive and unique beauty that allows her to turn every word she sings into a kind of magic formula.”  It’s hard not to disagree with Reg, and on Tiny Boat, Lauren’s magical debut album, she showcases that voice, her songwriting and her instrumental prowess to very best effect.

Tiny Boat is a collection of songs written in awe of love and friendship, motherhood, the natural world and the night sky.  The songs are comforting, reassuring and often deeply personal.  And I can guarantee that the thoughts that Lauren shares in her lyrical contemplations will resonate with all but the most cynical of listeners.

There’s a mighty store of talent around the neck of the Warwickshire woods that Lauren calls home and she’s gathered together some of the cream of that talent to help turn tiny boats into something extra special.  If you’ve seen her perform – either as a solo artist or as one half of Donnelly and South – her duo with singer, songwriter, guitarist and all-round entertainer Keith Donnelly – you’ll appreciate that she’s something of a whizz on tenor guitar, fiddle and shruti box.  Those favoured instruments are in clear evidence on Tiny Boat, and Lauren’s songs are given just the right amount of extra depth by the contributions of regular collaborator Keith, John Parker, Ben Hains and – one of At The Barrier’s old friends – Ellie Gowers.

I can hear strains of Kate Rusby and Maz O’Connor both in Lauren’s songs and in her delivery of them – and I say that just as a guide for anyone wondering what the growing fuss is all about.  Certainly, if you have a liking for the work of either or both of those august ladies, then Lauren South’s music is likely to be right up your street, but really, there’s a uniqueness about Lauren’s melodicism, literacy and warmth that sets her on a pedestal that’s hers and hers alone.

It seems that traditional influences are never far below the surface in Lauren’s writing, as she demonstrates for the album’s opening track, The Mermaid and the Swimming Lad.  In a reversal of the usual folk song interactions between mermaids and men, it’s the mermaid this time who captures and abducts the human object of her desire.  The story doesn’t end well, of course, but the song is wonderfully atmospheric, Lauren uses her full range of instrumentation and the vocal harmonies are divine.  It’s definitely a sign of the great things to come.

And come they do, by the cartload.  Tiny Boat, the album’s title track is a cracker – another good story (the tiny boat is a metaphor for the repository for all things that Lauren holds dear), a lovely tune, and some nice fiddle playing, too.  Jessica – a song set in the area surrounding Hillmorton Locks on the Oxford Canal (a favourite place of mine…) is just as good.  The song addresses the need for us all to keep moving forward as its theme, evinced by lines like: “Jessica, don’t let them waste your precious time; don’t look back.”  Guitars add to the contentment expressed in the song, and Lauren’s vocal delivery is crystal clear.

Guitar and piano provide the accompaniment for the beautiful Here for You, a comforting song that reminds us that adversity can always be banished by companionship, before the gentle, poignant, Heavens allows Lauren to reconcile her feelings by contemplating the night sky.  Written in memory of her dad, whom she lost during the same week that her first daughter was born, it’s yet another lovely song, and the soft, discrete accompaniment is a perfect fit.

Parting and reconciliation are the themes for the folky, happy, Across the Sea and there’s more of those delicious vocal harmonies to enjoy, before Laura picks up her shruti box (it’s a kind of Indian harmonium, in case you’re wondering) for the haunting Bring You Home, a song inspired by the closeness to nature that pervades Laura’s consciousness whenever she takes a woodland walk.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that Hope/ Boo to the Goose, a pair of fiddle tunes, come from Laura’s repertoire of traditional music.  Not a bit of it, as Lauren explains: “The first [Hope] was written at the beginning of lockdown, when I hoped that the world would change drastically.  Boo To The Goose was written in honour of someone who thought I’d never say ‘boo’ to any geese… and then I did!”  They’re a highly enjoyable pair – Hope has the feel of a Scottish air, emphasized particularly by the occasional dramatic strums on the accompanying guitar, whilst …Goose is a sprightly Irish-flavoured number.

Tiny Boat is packed with great songs, and I think that my personal pick of the bunch might just be Wayfinder a song that proffers the wise advice that we should trust in the power of our own judgement, and heed what the natural world tells us.  Set on another of Lauren’s woodland walks, she sings of her willingness to be guided by sunlight, clouds, the sky, the flowing river and the glowing moon; it’s happy and highly descriptive.

Written for Lauren’s children, the sincere, heartfelt, Love is the Answer, is yet another gem.  Lines like: “Whether you’re near or whether you’re far, my love will reach you wherever you are” are delivered with passion and beauty and, once again, the accompaniment – guitar, violin and light–touch percussion this time – is perfectly matched to the sentiments in the lyrics.

Lauren’s message that storms – real or metaphorical – are always best weathered together, is delivered with a touch of genuine drama in Weather the Storm, before things calm down considerably for the dreamy escapism of One Star Awake.  Laura took the song’s title from a line in the traditional ballad, She Moves Through The Fair, and worked it into one of the album’s most soothing songs.  And, on an album where heartfelt sentiment is in plentiful supply, it is, perhaps, the touching Song for Judith that tugs hardest at the heartstrings.  Lauren explains: “Judith was a friend, an over-the-road neighbour and a wonderful mother who left us far too soon.  Her song reminds us that people do live on – in memories, in hearts, in our children.”   Lauren doesn’t hold back as she sings “She was a beauty, she was.  She was stronger than I’ve ever known,” in a tribute that is loving, reflective and respectful; a beautiful song indeed.

To close this triumphant debut album, Lauren turns her attentions to her three children, and her contemplations of the mild domestic irritations that inevitably come as part of the parenthood package, as well as the joys and challenges of seeing children change as they grow, will strike a resonant chord with parents everywhere.  And any parent that hears this song will wish that they had the talent to have written it.

It might be a tiny boat, but it’s carrying an impressively large cargo!  Lauren South’s debut album is a delight.  A restorative for the jaded times we live in.

Watch the official video to Tiny Boat – the album’s title track – here:

Lauren South online: Website / Facebook / Instagram / YouTube / Bandcamp

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