ANNA & ELIZABETH
ANNA & ELIZABETH
FREE DIRT/THE PLANET CO.
FREE DIRT/THE PLANET CO.
PROPER/THE PLANET CO.
STEM/THE PLANET CO.
Being young American female singers with self-titled debut albums out concurrently on the same label via the same distributor are by no means the most significant facets that link the duo Anna & Elizabeth and singer-songwriter Dori Freeman. The English singers Fay Hield and Kirsty Bromley, whose albums are available through the same esteemed Aussie supplier, have a not dissimilar connection. All four of these equally excellent acts share common ground inasmuch that they draw inspiration from previous eras while retaining a high degree of freshness and integrity.
The pairing of Maryland multi-instrumentalist Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Virginia ballad singer Elizabeth LaPrelle is a revivalist match made in folk heaven, if ever there was such a thing. Between them, they evoke the Appalachian artistry and heartfelt sincerity of the fabled Carter Family in an immaculately rendered collection of 16 well-thumbed traditional songs from the annals of American folk history, several with indelible connections to the British Isles. Although they follow the footsteps of myriad mentors, the girls’ exquisite vocal harmony elevates several chestnuts, including the Carter Family’s ‘Little Black Train’. Throughout they exhibit the capacity to put a fresh spin on archival classics with relatively simple instrumental devices and a refreshing absence of studio artifice. In ‘Greenwood Sidey’, for example, they create underlying tension by repeating a single chord strum. Elsewhere, understated banjo and fiddle accents narrative. The set’s most expansive arrangement comes in an outstanding composite version of the Child ballad ‘Orfeo’, with a guest musician adding uillean pipes’ drone and melody. A quirky 1950s’ number, ‘Father Neptune’, displays a playful quality that provides welcome contrast to more lugubrious songs of redemption, austerity and death. From the opening track, a cappella reading of ‘Long Time Travelling’ to the closing rendition of ‘Ida Red’, Anna & Elizabeth is an album in glorious tune with its roots — real Americana, if you will.
Anna & Elizabeth’s official video of ‘Little Black Train’:
There’s something equally endearing and old-fashioned about Dori Freeman — no doubt partly a legacy of her Appalachian upbringing in a musical family. On an all-orginals eponymous debut offering, this promising young artist tackles all aspects of love, from heartache to heartbreak, with palpable reference to some classic 20th century influences. ‘Go On Loving’, with consummate piano, pedal steel and fiddle backing, shows shades of vintage Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. ‘Tell Me’ has echoes of Buddy Holly; ‘Any Wonder’ suggests Emmylou Harris in Wrecking Ball mode. A short and catchy a cappella gospel-style song, ‘Ain’t Nobody’, carries the stamp of the late Merle Travis’s ‘Sixteen Tons’ crossed with Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’. It is in the sparser songs, such as the last-named, the folky opener ‘You Say’ and in two songs in which she enjoys vocal harmony support from producer Teddy Thompson (‘Where I Stood’ and ‘A Song For Paul’), that the 24-year-old is heard in the best light. With her four-octave range, a distinctive falsetto and
heartfelt delivery married to an impressive sense of country and pop history, Dori Freeman is a singer-songwriter who’s destined to go to the top.
Dori Freeman’s official video of ‘You Say’:
Fay Hield has already established herself in the upper echelon of female traditional English folk singers and, as such, a ready-made successor to genre queens, Maddy Prior, June Tabor and Eliza Carthy. Having the crown prince, Jon Boden, as a partner in life and music is certainly no hindrance to her development. Indeed, some of the swagger of Boden’s recently disbanded 11-piece flagship Bellowhead — not to mention Hield’s own association with that excellent co-operative The Full English — seems to have rubbed off in several of the arrangements on Old Adam. Hield’s fourth solo album in sixth years features support from Boden (on guitar & fiddle) as well as her Full English bandmates, Martin Simpson (guitar), Sam Sweeney (fiddle), Rob Harbron (concertina) and Ben Nicholls (bass). A noted folk scholar as well as a sturdy singer, Hield resurrects such epics of the British Isles’ songbook as ‘Katie Catch’, ‘Jack Orion’ and ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ and the narrative ballad ‘Queen Eleanor’s Confession’ with some aplomb and, to mix things up, tosses in a surprise a cappella reading of Tom Waits’ weepie ‘The Briar and The Rose’. The title track, which carries a tune written by Boden, explores one of the bible’s oldest stories. Caribbean and Balkan rhythms enliven successive and respective renditions of ‘Long Time Ago’ and ‘Go From My Window’, while the Rudyard Kipling/Peter Bellamy co-composition ‘Anchor Song’ benefits from several key changes.
Fay Hield sings ‘Green Gravel’ from her official video for Old Adam:
Kirsty Bromley might be a relative newcomer to the burgeoning English folk scene, but the quality of this young Sheffield singer’s debut solo album suggests she’ll be around for years to come. While Time Ashore nods to the tradition with stirring versions of standards such as ‘Sweet Nightingale’ and ‘The Young Sisters, it also includes several of Bromley’s own songs — opening with one rendered a cappella — and immaculate covers of Dougie MacLean’s ‘All Who Wander’, Chris Wood’s ‘English Ground’ and Paul Metsers’ ‘One More Time’. She ends a splendidly eclectic selection sung from the heart with a traditional Maori song and Joni Mitchell’s ‘Circle Song’, — the latter recorded in Melbourne during a five-week tour of Australia. The support instrumentation is equally varied with backing from guitar, fiddle, cello, double bass, flute, whistle, accordion and melodeon.
A sneak preview of Kirsty Bromley’s debut album, Time Ashore: