Karine Polwart's third solo album is a dark and intimate affair, which marks a quiet public return to traditional Scots song for the award winning singer-songwriter. This is where her musical career began almost a decade ago, as a member of folk groups Malinky and, subsequently, Battlefield Band. And, in private, the songs have never lost their power. The pared down arrangements of ballads and love songs on this album feature little else than sparse piano or guitar accompaniment, with the odd daub of atmospheric colour. Instead, the performances showcase Karine's warm and earthy vocals and assured storytelling.
2007 was a fruitful year for the Scottish singer-songwriter Karine Polwart. As well as her first child, born in June, she has also delivered two new albums, including a third collection of original songs, titled This Earthly Spell, due out in March 2008 [and reviewed in the next issue]. Fairest Floo'er, meanwhile, finds Polwart touching base with the traditional material that prevailed in her early repertoire, before the closing track gives us a taste of the spring release. It's a spellbinding return to her roots, highlighting the eloquent interpretative gifts that have always gone hand-in-hand with Polwart's songwriting - itself richly informed by the narrative and poetic potency of traditional songs.
This is vividly to the fore on Fairest Floo'er, which takes its title from a line describing the dead lover mourned in the opening track, the classic Borders ballad `Dowie Dens of Yarrow'. This sets the album's largely melancholy mood and its stripped-down, spacious arrangements, with Polwart's clear, bittersweet, exquisitely nuanced voice here accompanied solely by Kim Edgar's sensitive piano chords. Other songs feature Polwart's guitarist brother Stephen - whose elegant, classical-style fingerwork brilliantly enhances the sombrely measured plaint of Robert Burns's `Mirk, Mirk Is This Midnight Hour' - while a truly heartrending account of `The Death of Queen Jane' unfolds in all its stark, anguished intensity over the slowly building drone of an Indian shruti box. Polwart's meticulous attention to phrasing, rhythm and diction, allied to her vibrant emotional empathy with the material, at once captures all the timeless resonance of such songs, while rendering them magically !
Sue Wilson -- Songlines magazine, March 2008 (#50)