The Cornshed Sisters Tell Tales Review

Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Home-grown loveliness abounds on this folksy debut from the north east.

Jude Rogers 2012

Female siblings singing in harmony about beekeeping, water babies and stacking up bones... how very 2012 this sounds. And how odd this is. First Aid Kit's Söderberg sisters have tingled spines with their perfectly matched intervals; The Staves have meshed their voices and their familial connections. Perhaps this trend marks a wish to return to music's simple roots, in these all-access, all-Auto-Tuned days; or for musicians – and women, perhaps – to bond together in the purest, most moving of ways.

Still, The Cornshed Sisters are different. First, they're not sisters by blood, but four friends from Newcastle. They also have indie clout, with an ex-member of Kenickie in their ranks (Cath, Jennie and Liz are joined by the still corkscrew-curled Marie Du Santiago), and this debut album was produced by Field Music’s Peter Brewis. Their music has a slightly different tone, too. These feel like north-eastern songs, lifted by local vowels and consonants, moods veering close to the scene still bubbling around local group The Unthanks and, brilliantly, Newcastle University's music department, whose Folk Music B.A. graduates include the more traditional Jim Causley and Emily Portman.

But this music also has shades of sharp-and-sweet singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams, the old tales of The Beautiful South, even the rough love of The Proclaimers about it: a personal, heartfelt commitment to music-making without care about fashion or fancy. Take Dance at My Wedding, beginning with a simple, strummed ukulele, and an old-fashioned piano. Jennie tells us about someone – a lost friend, it seems, although the mystery never fully clears – watching kids kicking the ball against the wall again, how he made her laugh, and how she made him so proud it was “like when Dad had said he'd made good gravy”. That line could so easily snag; here, touchingly, it soars.

Most of the songs, however, fit closer to folk patterns, which can sound overdone. For instance, The Beekeeper features an old man guiding “a hero to find the prophet true and fair” – it sounds tired. But when the band weaves fresher stories, they blossom. In particular Dresden, in which love is compared to the bombing of the German town, shakes the bones. Even better is Soft White, where the women promise to sing Joni Mitchell's Little Green down the phone, then go back to school and kick the kids who “picked on you because of your shoes”. More of this home-grown loveliness, and there melts your soul.

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