...A disc that is to be cherished from first note to last.
Michael Quinn 2008
It just isn't possible that there will be a sweeter, more sincere album released this year than this plaintively bittersweet collection of duets from adopted Geordie songstress Kathryn Williams and scion of a venerable English folk-music family, Neill MacColl.
Written, recorded and mixed in a little over two weeks, Two is a miniature marvel, the sort of album you want to keep jealously to yourself but feel compelled to tell complete strangers who catch your eye in the street about. Just do it. They’ll thank you for it.
Nominated for the Mercury Music prize in 2000 for the equally but differently exquisite Little Black Numbers, Williams has carved out a singular niche for herself across a six-album career and courted comparisons to Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Dylan and the Velvet Underground. All very flattering but all failing to quite encompass the delicious individuality of the soft-as-the-finest-Eiderdown pillow voice and a musical sensibility of bewitching sensitivity.
Add the rippling summer brook-voiced MacColl – think Clifford T Ward crossed with Sandy Denny (I know,I know!) – to the equation and the combination of the two becomes completely spellbinding.
''Small, sketchy pieces, not Big Art'', Williams says of her songs and that's exactly the appeal of them. They’re personal, private statements, intimate and confessional, honest and uncluttered by musical affectation or poetic posturing. Which is precisely why they sing out so deliciously.
Opening track 6am Corner is gossamer perfect, the single Come With Me a wistful invitation not to be refused, Before It Goes steals the melody from Neil Young's Only Love Can Break Your Heart to make it its own, Armchair imbues love with a to-be-wished-for domesticity and Blue Fields transports you into a bucolic reverie not to be lightly surrendered.
MacColl occasionally disappears into the background but makes his presence felt as useful descanted ballast in a cover of Tom Waits' black-edged ballad Innocent When You Dream.
If Phill Brown's discretely eloquent production, gently infused with cello, double bass and percussion, relies a touch too much on understatement throughout (there's nothing here to quite match the emotional intensity of 2006's Leave to Remain or Old Low Light from 2002), Two is none the worse for that and remains a disc that is to be cherished from first note to last.