A special solo effort from the Bellowhead vocalist and cellist
Sid Smith 2009
Stepping out from the raucous crowd that is the 11-piece folk ensemble Bellowhead could be viewed as something of a risk for vocalist, cellist and fiddler Rachael McShane – it’s one thing to be carousing in a chorus, but quite another to hold the stage all on your own.
Happily, as with fellow Bellowhead member Jon Bowden’s superb Songs From the Floodplain album of earlier this year, the gamble pays off handsomely. Within seconds of the yearning start to The Gardner, you know you're in the presence of something very special.
A traditional ballad, it sounds like it could have been written yesterday such is the freshness of tone and the lightness of touch that McShane exhibits. Her vocal is one that is conversant with the history and reputation of such a tune, but is utterly unencumbered and far from intimidated.
Away from McShane's sparkling performances, the core group of James Peacock (piano, keyboards), Jonathan Proud (bass) and Adam Sinclair (drums) provide supple and engaging support. The horn-augmented skitter-funk of Maid on the Shore wheels through tricky signatures as well as rocking it up as McShane herself tears off a blinding fiddle solo.
Elsewhere, elegant and understated arrangements Captain Ward, The Drowned Sailor and opener Miles Weatherhill wouldn't sound out of place on an ECM label jazz album. Cool spacious keyboard runs, inquisitive and prowling bass, and neatly polished drumming not only lift the instrumental stakes, but serve to elevate McShane's voice.
And what a voice.
Folk music enthusiasts who've been around the block will be able to tell you where they were when they first heard Anne Briggs or Sandy Denny. In a few years a new generation of listeners will be able to do the same when it comes to Rachael McShane.