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Beautiful, poignant, evocative 5th solo album from one of Scotland's most celebrated and loved singer-songwriters. Produced by Iain Cook (one half of Glasgow band The Unwinding Hours, and an experienced composer for television) 'Traces' draws inspiration from the history and symbolism of St Paul's Cathedral via The Occupy Movement (in the sweeping 'King of Birds'), ponders the ways in which Charles Darwin's family life might have impacted on him as a thinker (in the poignant 'We're All Leaving') and recalls the childhood mystique of the BP petrochemical plant at Grangemouth on the River Forth (in the uplifting 'Tinsel Show'). A visceral connection to "the crimson towers of the city you were born in" underpins the hypnotic and percussive insistence of 'Tears for Lots Wife'; whilst the elegiac harmonium and accordion duet of 'Sticks N Stones' conjures the leaving of a family home via "inch marks on door frames" and the imprint of "hopes in the plasterboard". Supported by her two regular touring collaborators, brother Steven Polwart (guitars & vocals) and Fair Islander Inge Thomson (accordion, percussion and vocals), Polwart's own direct musical contribution to Traces has expanded beyond her usual acoustic guitars to include Indian harmonium, floor percussion, and even modest use of field recordings. Throughout the album this core trio is sympathetically augmented by producer Cook on piano, keys and percussion, and by judicious use of guest musicians on tuned percussion (marimba, vibraphone), wind (including Admiral Fallow's Sarah Hayes on flute) and horns. These additional musical textures support songs such as 'Salter's Road', a gentle eulogy for Polwart's elderly neighbour, Molly Kristensen, and add drama and intensity to the unsettling 'Strange News', which captures the hour immediately after Polwart heard of the sudden death of her younger cousin, Ewan. A humane response to the darker side of life has rarely ever been far from Polwart's pen. But 'Half a Mile', the unflinching closing track of Traces, is, by her own reckoning, the most difficult song she's committed to record yet. Written in memory of Northumbrian schoolgirl Susan Maxwell, who was abducted and murdered 30 years ago 'Cover Your Eyes' is featured in the end credits of Antony Baxter's multiple award-winning documentary,'You've Been Trumped.' Her debut album "Faultlines" won three awards at the 2005 BBC Folk Awards, including Best Album. Its follow up, "Scribbled in Chalk" (2006), contained "Daisy", which won Polwart another BBC Folk Award for Best Original Song in 2007. Karine is also a founding member of the Scottish/Canadian group, The Burns Unit, whose 2010 album, Side Show, was widely acclaimed.
Pick characters you'd expect to kick off contemporary folk songs, and you might not name Farrah Fawcett and Steve McQueen. But Karine Polwart's fifth album begins just so, with a young couple who feel just like them, taking in the beauty of Aberdeenshire.
Then the Scottish haar descends, and the actions of the man ready to “tear these dunes asunder” are obscured. Polwart's approach to Donald Trump's takeover of this coastline for a golf course never sounds earnest or needy, however, but funny and sweet, before it packs its devastating punch. This is an approach Polwart excels at, and one that underpins this album's excellence.
Traces reveals Polwart's talents as a writer, above all. Rather than sounding like a simple collection of songs, it plays like a book of short stories set to music, full of stunning nuances and depths. She paints personal memoirs in some, but always with a subtle brush.
Take Strange News, the story of the death of Polwart's younger cousin, which observes the indifference of nature alongside the reactions of family: “The mother does just what she must / And the father comes undone.”
Salter’s Road is a more sentimental eulogy to her elderly neighbour Molly, where “the cold north wind gathers her into his arms once more”. The album's closer Half a Mile tells the tale of Susan Maxwell, a girl the same age as Polwart who was abducted and murdered 30 years ago. Polwart, sensitively and sharply, gives this ghost substance, imagining her “swinging [her] racquet like Navratilova” and singing a verse of that summer's number one single, Come On Eileen. It's the rich life in these details that make these songs really sing.
The music lifts these stories, too. Polwart's gorgeous Stirlingshire vowels are those of a strong singer, but she lets her subjects speak for themselves, as good folk singers always intend to.
The musical landscape behind Polwart is also broader and more inventive than before, with wheezing Indian harmonium, floor percussion and field recordings adding new levels of atmosphere. It all adds up to an album that will live long, an album to live with, and live in.
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Top Customer Reviews
The album opens with a simple song which has a wave that will rumble the sub woofers in a way that only the Hercules flying over my house can do. The album continues with another nine gems. I can't choose favourites yet, as it only arrived this morning, but, "We're all leaving" and "Tinsel town" hit the spot.
The core of the band is Karine and her brother Steven, a fantastic guitarist with an amazing touch, and the incredibly individual Inge Thomson (see the live show if you get a chance) whos musicianship adds greatly to the sound, and voice harmonises perfectly with Karines. Another eight musicians have been brought in to augment this group and add a bit of spice and variation.
Another piece of magic from Karine Polwart. If you haven't heard Karine Polwart before, buy this album, and when you have there's another four to buy.
p.s. I am not paid by Karine Polwart or Amazon.
The opening track , Cover Your Eyes, is having a pop at American tycoon Donald Trump constructing a golf complex on the beautiful unspoilt Ythan Estuary north of Aberdeen which may ultimately be thwarted by the sea haar( coastal fog) which regularly occurs in the vicinity, while King of Birds focusses on the Occupy London Protests that took place in the grounds of St Pauls Cathedral last year .
The songs have lovely arrangements, representing a strong progression from her previous albums, clever and memorable lyrics, more wordly, but still coming across as delightfully simple at times . Often the message or moral of the song is initially a bit oblique, but is enlightened by the sleeve note clarification, and no doubt highlighted in introductions of the songs in live performance.Read more ›
In 'Traces', however, she seems to have dug deeper and come up with something
quite magical. These ten new songs are simply beautiful. Evocative, emotional,
each with a very clear character and purpose. The rich arrangements have fire
and self-belief; her lyrics imaginative and often deeply touching. A class act!
Opening track 'Cover Your Eyes', with its sublime ebb and flow and uplifting
emotional harmonic swells is one of the loveliest songs I have heard this year.
No less so 'King Of Birds', a sparkling ballad whose warm heart is enhanced
by Ms Polwart's deep understanding of traditional form and texture. The stripped
down simplicity of 'Don't Worry' frames yet another beautiful melody and words
which, with the greatest tenderness, address a soldier's return from the horrors
of war. 'Strange News' displays some fine guitar playing and pulsing flute and
accordion and final track 'Half A Mile' leaves us with no doubt that its author's
craft makes a significant and memorable contribution to contemporary folk.
The album is a real and unimpeachable joy from top to tail.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Traces is a very good CD by Karine Polwart - exactly what the recipient asked for. Goods delivered in a timeous manner and at a very good price.Published 20 months ago by Mrs. M. A. Clark