The former-Unthank’s gift for a charged lyric and a compelling tune is undiminished.
Colin Irwin 2010
Singer, pianist, songwriter and queen of the droll one-liner, Belinda O’Hooley’s larger-than-life personality played such a significant role in the rise of Rachel Unthank & the Winterset that many doubted they’d survive long without her when she quit in 2007.
They were wrong but, having contributed two of the most emotive songs – Blackbird and Whitethorn – to The Unthanks’ breakthrough album The Bairns, her next move was always going to be intriguing. It is. Now in partnership with fellow Yorkshire singer/songwriter Heidi Tidow, O’Hooley’s gift for a charged lyric, a dramatic arrangement and a compelling tune is undiminished, flowering on two remarkable tracks in particular – Too Old to Dream and One More Xmas. Aside from her incidental roles as lesbian icon and former Annie Lennox impersonator, O’Hooley’s day job was entertaining in old people’s homes and Too Old to Dream is a sentimental, yet still intensely moving picture of faded memories, melded into the old Sigmund Romberg/Oscar Hammerstein II standard and a recording of a Dewsbury care home resident.
If it ever escapes above the radar, One More Xmas might also one day be recognised as a classic. Thoughtful, provocative, yearning and deeply poignant, it’ll resonate with anyone who’s lost a loved one or wilts under grown-up responsibilities, and may just be the best seasonal song written since Fairytale of New York.
Not that the rest should be dismissed easily. All Stand in Line sounds like an anthem of sorts; Flight of the Petrel wields virulent symbolism; and Que Sera is a slowly menacing brute of a song inspired by the execution of Edith Cavell, which also provides the album’s title. If this makes the album sound dark, complex, melancholic and forbidding, then maybe it is. But patience and persistence hold their rewards and there is a throwaway children’s song Banjololo, an unaccompanied Cold & Stiff and a lovely arrangement of the traditional Spancil Hill for variety.
Former bandmate Jackie Oates turns up playing fiddle, and with Anna Esslemont and Cormac Byrne of Uiscedwr adding textures, O’Hooley and Tidow’s considerably weighty material is carried lightly.