An engaging and impressive album from the Irish folk singer.
Robin Denselow 2010-10-11
She may be an Irish singer from County Kildare, who first attracted attentions while working with the celebrated Irish-American group Cherish the Ladies, but Heidi Talbot is rapidly becoming a key figure in the flourishing and vibrant Scottish folk scene. She is now based in Edinburgh with her partner John McCusker, the celebrated multi-instrumentalist who can be heard on recordings by artists including The Battlefield Band and Paul Weller. And Talbot, too, has been involved in a series of collaborations, singing on albums by Michael McGoldrick, Idlewild, Kris Drever and Sandy Wright.
Now, surely, it’s time for Talbot to be recognised as a soloist in her own right, and this album – the follow-up to her In Love + Light set of two years ago – shows the range in her charmingly low-key approach. It was produced, predictably enough, by McCusker, who also plays fiddle, cittern and whistle, and the list of other musicians involved reads almost like a Who’s Who of folk celebrities: Ian Carr and Boo Hewerdine on guitars, McGoldrick on uilleann pipes and whistles, Andy Cutting on accordion, and with harmony vocals provided by Drever, Eddi Reader and Karine Polwart.
Considering that line-up, one might expect an album of grand instrumentals; but the end product is the exact opposite. Many of the songs start out low-key, with Talbot singing against an accompaniment of acoustic guitars or fiddles, other instruments or backing vocals subtly joining in. Her approach is always intimate and often easy-going, but she can switch between different styles. Opener Willie Taylor is an epic narrative ballad, a story of love, a girl dressing up as a man, infidelity and murder – and now given an Irish twist. Then there are sadder but still jaunty songs like Tell Me Truly, which features a sturdy melody from McCusker, and the country lament Hang Me, perhaps too relaxed considering its bleak lyrics.
Talbot changes direction yet again for sea shanty Sally Brown, and for the light but upbeat Bleecker Street, a song about dirty tricks by American females of dubious morals. Here, for a change, McCusker allows himself a fine and extended fiddle work-out. The title-track matches a grand, gentle melody by McCusker against her own lyrics, and it’s as effortless and quietly exquisite as the final track, a revival of Sandy Denny’s emotional ballad At the End of the Day. It provides a fitting finale to an engaging and impressive album.