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Friday, 1 November 2013

Karine Polwart – Traces (2012)

I’d been avoiding listening to the extreme folk charms of Karine Polwart for some time. I had visions of another Fay Hield experience, but I needn’t have worried. This is an altogether gentler and more textured album, more akin to Kate Bush than Steeleye Span. It has a lovely cover and packaging too, which is always a bonus.

Karine has an undeniably great voice which sits somewhere between Cara Dillon and legendary crooner Amie Mcdonald. It’s delicate but powerful and at times even a little quirky. The songs are equally left of centre and nowhere near the stereotypical folk gruellers that I’d envisaged, with a range of atmospheres, instrumentation and lyrical themes. It’s the kind of music you take with you if you’re going to live on your own in a lighthouse for two years in the middle of the ocean.

Every track is a winner in a multifaceted fashion, with layers of subtlety, melody and meaning. My personal favourites are the silky ode to the seventies ‘Cover your eyes’ with its spooky wave sound effects, the twinkling grace of ‘King of Birds’ and the kitchen sink narrative of ‘Salters Road’. Best of all is the dark whispering menace of ‘Tears for Lot’s Wife’ which almost sounds like a lost track from Bush’s spectacular ‘Never Ending Story’, if only it had a couple of croaking frog samples.

A thoroughly enjoyable experience all round. A crafted and polished album from a wholey under-rated artist. Maybe a duet with Amie Mcdonald is in order?

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