It blows hot and cold, but this debut is still a striking calling card.
Colin Irwin 2012
After initially making an impressive dent with the enticingly odd singles The Saddle Song and Black Doe in 2008 and 2009 respectively, this debut by East Anglian singer-songwriter Mary Epworth has had a long gestation.
Black Doe reappears – full of frenetic drums, feedback and a formidable blast of brass to couch its rustic sense of mystery in a serious wall of sound – as all the stops are pulled in Epworth’s determined bid for serious acceptance.
All the signs are that it may work, too. Big store is placed on studio technique and production quality - she is, after all, the sister of producer royalty Paul Epworth, knob-twiddler-in-chief on Adele’s 21. But her main collaborator Will Twynam shrewdly ensures the album just about retains enough of the weirdness and otherworldly qualities that made her interesting in the first place and maintains her individuality.
Partly recorded in a barn in the middle of nowhere, the dreaminess of the title is sleepily evoked on ethereal tracks like Those Nights and Six Kisses, Epworth’s slightly wispy vocal style melting into a layered haze of psychedelia that occasionally threatens to overwhelm the album and diffuse her genuine flair and character.
At its best the album successfully merges folksy surrealism with a slightly demented pop heart to create both surprise and mainstream appeal. Acoustic instruments establish a deceptive mood of free-wheeling charm, but they suddenly explode in unexpected directions to raise the stakes and keep you guessing. None more so than Long Gone, a hit single in waiting, and Heal This Dirty Soul, half gospel epic, half Purple Rain-period Prince.
An air of melancholia hangs heavy over the album on more understated tracks like Two for Joy and Sweet Boy, with its plausible country sensibility that could almost pass as a long-lost Hank Williams song. But more offbeat material like Trimmed Wing and Come Back to the Bough suggest there are a million more ideas bubbling inside which might make deciding on an ultimate career direction something of a dilemma for Epworth.
It blows hot and cold in parts, but this debut is still a striking calling card.