The Fairest Floo'er CD
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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)
Top Customer Reviews
The sripped down tone of the album is in great contrast to her other solo work, and shows another side to this singer. Interpreting traditional music and making it seem relevant to a modern audience is a great challenge, one achieved by very few (Sandy Denny & June Tabor being two of my other favourites, albeit for very different reasons). Karine also seems to shine in the spaces left by the intentionally simple & sparse, yet inspired, musical arrangement that frames the songs, allowing the listener to concentrate upon the stories told & to be drawn into the events & experiences evoked within the song.
There is real talent here, and I am left eagerly awaiting not only the next album of her own music (especially after the delights of Scribbled In Chalk - Terminal Star was a stunning piece of lyrical genius), but also hoping that perhaps in the years to come we might see her again take up the challenge of interpreting songs from our rich heritage of traditional song.
In her third solo album, Karine gets right back to her roots, singing some wonderful arrangements of classic Scottish poetry.
Simple but powerful arrangements permit you to focus on what must be one of the finest voices found on the folk scene at the moment.
Two tracks deserve special attention. The Death of Queen Jane tells the story of Henry VIII's sad but botched attempt at undertaking a cesarean section. If you find yourself puzzling over the nature of the accompanying instrument :- border pipes? Hurdey gurdey? ....I'll put you out of your misery. It's actually a Shruti box:- one of those small hand pumped organ thingies normally found in Hindu or Sikh temples.
The bonus track, "Can't weld a body" takes us back to that sad time in history where the Iron Lady proved that she was indeed 'not for turning' way down in the South Atlantic.
This is finest single malt music.
Pour yourself a shot.
Will Ye Go To Flanders? sticks with me at the moment. Strong youthful Scotsmen heading off for an adventure and then wiped out in to the sound of the bloody cannon. Haunting stuff.
Recommend this?? Yes I do but if you choose to buy this then I suggest you give it time to grow on you. Listen to the stories told and you will undoubtedly be captivated by Karines melodious unique vocals.
What is particularly striking is the pared back style of the accompanying music which really allows Karine's expressive voice to flourish. All of the tracks on the album have something going for them but there are three that particularly stand out for me, the first "the Dowie Dens of Yarrow", "the Learig" and "the Death of Queen Jane". The Dowie Dens tells a typical ballad-type story of young lovers tragically separated by a meddling family, but the arrangement is so well put together and Karine's singing and expression so varied that I think this is probably my favourite track. The Learig stands out because it sounds to me so fresh (apart from the old Scots of course) it could have been written yesterday. The Death of Queen Jane actually tells a pretty gruesome and sad story but is sung in a style so pure and innocent that I didn't realise what the song was really about until I'd heard it a few times.
An exquisite and unusual addition to any CD collection - I can strongly reccommend it.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Bought for my brother for a birthday present. Have previously listened to it many times myself - knew it was fab! Arrived jn France very timeously!Published on 21 Oct. 2014 by jane allison
Earlier album from probably the best songwriter in Britain today. Some standards of her current repertoire and some good arrangements of traditional material. Read morePublished on 27 July 2014 by geoffblack
Karine's voice is pure, clear and beautifully Scottish. These traditional songs are the better for her wonderful treatment. A must for the folk fan.Published on 2 May 2014 by penny davies
Plenty of interesting and helpful comments in the other reviews, and she is earning the sort of plaudits now which are her due, so I want just to urge you see her live. Read morePublished on 16 April 2011 by cerrig
Karine Polwart mostly writes her own material, and I find the majority of it maddeningly inconsistent: it veers from being breathtakingly beautiful to the most awful cheese in the... Read morePublished on 30 July 2010 by Mr. M. J. Thrower
I came across the CD by chance as I'd never heard of Karine Polwart, but decided to give it a try after listening to a brief extract of Mirk, Mirk is This Midnight Hour. Read morePublished on 4 May 2008 by Lisa
Karine Polwart, in my mind, has without doubt the most beautiful singing voice i have ever heard. Her 2 solo albums are simply stunning, and this is no exception. Read morePublished on 4 Mar. 2008 by Suzie Macpherson