Classic country virtues all the way from Bristol town.
Ninian Dunnett 2011-11-11
From Brinsley Schwarz through The Rockingbirds and beyond, British country music has kept throwing up talent without ever raising a murmur in the music’s heartland. And if Red Sky July doesn’t change that, it certainly shines.
In any case, this isn’t country based on the industrial model of 21st century Nashville. Recorded in Bristol, it’s a debut that recalls nothing so much as Daniel Lanois’ moody atmospherics on Emmylou Harris’ 90s album Wrecking Ball. Think echoing production, brushes and dull thuds on the drums, a touch of plucked strings and spacey slide, all artfully muted to showcase the sparkiest and sweetest of country voices.
The band members are no hopeful apprentices, either. Guitarist Ally McErlaine has pulled off this trick before, presenting blues pastiches in the Scottish band Texas (where his slide guitar was one of the signature Americanisms). His wife Shelly Poole has a pedigree herself, writing for Massive Attack, Mark Ronson and Janet Jackson among others. So the 12 songs here are as soundly crafted as you would expect, mining the genre with a range that includes the Western movie swagger of How to Get Your Love and the fiddle hoedown of Evening Song without ever disrupting the dreamy swirl of the soundscape.
But really, Red Sky July is all about the voices. Poole and Florida native Charity Hair harmonise in a seductive, exuberant blend that encompasses the touchstones of Americana, from the emotive warble of Emmylou to the delicate intensity of Allison Moorer. Poole has sung like this before, with her sister Karen in the 90s chart band Alisha’s Attic – and here, forging a new partnership live in the studio, the harmonies are a conversation, too. There’s a lovely freshness in the way the singers negotiate each other’s delivery, diverging and coming together within the nuances of their coupling.
The result is an album with an authority that simply transcends its locale. This is carbon-neutral country with classic qualities for anyone east of the Atlantic.