A distinctive debut album from the Irish-born, Yorkshire-raised folk singer.
John Eyles 2011-02-04
Hannah Peel has had an unconventional history leading to this richly rewarding debut album. Irish-born but Yorkshire-raised, she played fiddle in her father’s band in Ireland. Trained at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, she started composing when working on a theatre show that needed songs. On the EP Rebox, her only previous release, she accompanied herself with a hand-cranked music box, incongruously covering classics by Cocteau Twins, New Order, OMD and Soft Cell – mostly songs older than the singer herself.
In complete contrast, The Broken Wave features eight Peel originals plus two traditional Irish songs. Her compositions avoid the conventional verse-chorus-verse form, their restrained melodies giving each its own distinctive charm. They vary in mood, covering subjects from the joy and hope of falling in love through to the pain and loss of betrayal.
Peel’s lyrics often have a mysterious, poetic quality. Rather than tackling a subject head-on, she tends to employ allusions and metaphors. Her insights into the break up of relationships display a maturity rare in a 28-year-old. Her voice is her other great asset. Although occasionally reminiscent of other singers, it is unmistakably unique. Crucially, its fragile beauty ideally conveys the longing and yearning contained within the complex emotions of the songs.
On Solitude, addressed to a lost love, it brings a lump to the throat to hear her deliver these lines in a frail, vulnerable voice, "The look on your face as she moves near / My eyes start to burn, oh why don’t they close / I just want to see why she is better than me, better than me / Better than me." Ouch.
The accompanying music is folk-pop with just enough quirky edginess to keep it sounding fresh. Producer Mike Lindsay achieves a fine balance between sensitively showcasing Peel’s voice and upstaging it, only rarely overdoing the drums. Peel plays violin and piano, as well as deploying that music box on the two Irish songs. On Solitude and the equally poignant Don’t Kiss the Broken One, subtle string arrangements by Nitin Sawhney complement and enhance the vocals without being a distraction.