on 27 September 2010
If you have a penchant for haunting, beautiful, ethereal music, then the Smoke Fairies are made for you. I became aware of the duo last year through 'Living With Ghosts' and 'Frozen Heart', two tracks that have etched themselves indelibly on my memory with their cyclical guitar licks and fragile vocals . It was, therefore, with some anticipation that I awaited their debut CD and I'm pleased to say it does not disappoint. The album is filled with well-crafted songs and gorgeous harmonies that are guaranteed to maintain your interest. I did notice that their bluesy guitar sound has mellowed slightly and is not quite as prominent as on their earlier EP but it's a minor carp. I can't wait to go and see them live but until then I'll be more than content with this truly original and stunning album.
on 12 September 2010
Previous single and EP releases have earmarked Smoke Fairies as a band to keep an eye on, and here at long last is their debut long-player. It's been worth the wait.
The latest in a long line of contemporary artists pushing back the boundaries of traditional folk music, the Fairies conjure up a totally compelling mix of the musick of olde England with the swampy sounds of the Mississippi Delta. God knows how or why it works; but it does, and often spectacularly so.
The time they reportedly spent living and working in New Orleans is clearly evident, as is the influence of working with Jack White, never more so than on the stirring "Strange Moon Rising" which opens with a grungy blues motif that sounds like it's about to morph into a cover of the Raconteurs' "Carolina Drama". These girls can work an insistent riff through a song as effortlessly as if they'd lived their entire lives in the Deep South, "Devil In My Mind" and "Storm Song" being other strong examples.
When the blues inflexions are temporarily left aside, as on (paradoxically) "Morning Blues", the girls' insistently beautiful voices are given room to shine through, arguably the most striking two-part female harmonies since Kate and Anna McGarrigle.
Presumably with an eye on widening the fanbase and 'crossing over' to the mainstream, the major label production has smoothed off just a little of the Fairies' previous edginess. There's nothing here quite as dark, chilling or haunting as "Living With Ghosts" or "Frozen Heart", but no doubt about it this is still one very fine album.
An album for those long winter nights that lie ahead.
on 10 October 2010
Each release by Smoke Fairies is driven by a strong sense of time or place. Their first elusive album, `Strange The Things' played the opening, stirring bars in what has become a fascinating canon of work, characterised by a natural flair for following the right tune, or the inspiration of a place.
Those principles made that 2005 release an explosion of ideas, and in the intervening years the band have dodged any convenient or conventional development, releasing the equivalent of another two albums though various singles, downloads, EPs and demos. Singles such as `Living With Ghosts', Sunshine and `Gastown' have been signposts of the evolving live tradition of Smoke Fairies: warm, distinct and musically agile.
`Through Low Light and Trees' colours a new landscape. It is a proper album: honed and delivered in one setting, Cornwall, and seasoned by the weather, the light and the cycles of some unknown corner of that special place.
`Summer Fades' is a significant opener: understated, melodic and subtle in its invocation of the originalities of autumn. At the same time, the band emerges with an assured restraint: voice, guitars, viola, bass, drums, the last three instruments surging through a number of songs with a muscular pulse.
The next two songs, `Devil In My Mind' and `Hotel Room' - which swerve and swagger and mutter with late night insights - might be pigeonholed as `bluesy'. But they simply take the principles of what some would call `folkier' songs and let the musicianship swell. The band have spent years on the road playing their way out of any convenient category and `Through Low Light And Trees' proves this.
`Dragon' follows, an unexpected musical allegory: piano and voices playing a melody like a nursery rhyme, against a tale of devastation caused by a mythical beast, like some current disaster.
The band have made a number of vinyl releases and this album seems made for that medium, with the first five songs expansive in their range, and `side two' convincingly aligned with the recording's environment, via much more than the songs' titles. `Strange Moon Rising' shudders with the images and discords of a dark and dislocated outing, while `Morning Blues' recalls the earlier cover of Orbison's `It's Over'. But this is better: a more expansive, compelling tune, with Katherine Blamire's lead vocals perfectly pitched against Jessica Davies' distant whirr.
`Storm Song' captures the record's essence: a simple, saddened verse, set against a chorus torn by grief, but secured by the broad notes of Neil Walsh's viola; as in `Erie Lackawanna', each note and syllable is penetratingly clear.
The album concludes with the atmospheric, almost casual chords of `Feeling Is Turning Blue', around which a wistful solo is twisted, and the mutating chorus murmurs the tale of broken friendship: `Maybe it's something you learn,/ You take as much away before you crash and burn'. Then `After The Rain', returns us to the simple ingredients which flavour of all Smoke Fairies' work. Here: one guitar, harmonics, that neat combination of longing and fulfilment.
Becca lent me this CD (which I now have to get my own copy of...) and it is spectacular.
Channeling the (in my 'humble' opinion) 70s finest folk rock band (Trees) with what appears to be STEREO Celia Humphris (by far the most beautiful and haunting voice - sorry you Maddy Prior/June Tabor/Jacqui McShee fans) in an updated and dated set of tracks.
Too soon for selective track examination - the overall tone is GLORIOUS!
If you loved Trees, or the early Steeleye, or Pentangle, or even some Prog Rock (sorry!) this for you.
on 9 October 2010
Smoke Fairies have a unique sound and this debut album has haunting melodies combined with compelling lyrics and beautiful vocals. Reminiscent of the best of 70's folk rock, this is an album you can listen to endlessly, and contains what Mark Riley ( BBC 6music) said was the best single of the year (Hotel Room) - Radcliffe and Maconie (Radio2) said they loved it 4 times when they played it for their pick and mix. Highly recommended.
on 29 January 2011
It's rare enough to find a band with a great singer and wonderful music; with Smoke Fairies you get two. The perfect harmonies of Katherine and Jessica are the most obvious delight on this album but the songs have a real depth and darkness to them which has me playing this over and over. Although their dark folk has a distinct blues tinge to it, to me this album represents the English countryside in winter, a tone poem for the dark and cold months. There are a wealth of influences at work including This Mortal Coil, Kristin Hersh, Led Zeppelin, Fairport Convention and even Pink Floyd. As one reviewer put it, this could have been made at any time in the last 40 years; as Smoke Fairies themselves put it, the English folk tradition is something to draw on but the challenge is to come up with something original. They have certainly done that; Through Low Light and Trees is a huge achievement that almost forms a pair with Midlake's The Courage of Others. Essential purchase.
on 29 January 2012
This album has been a revelation. I consider this cd one of the best album I've listened in the last three or four years.
First of all the quality of the melodies and the arrangements is great. Echoes of Pentagle and celtic folks seen through a modern prospective.
Guitar, voices, cello, drums united in a natural, fluid, effective synthesis.
Really a wonderful listening experience.
I hope that the duo could release a future album a these levels.
The sensations I've experienced are not really far from those I felt during the listening of the masterpieces of Nick Drake (Bryter Layter), Kings of Convenience (Quite is the new Loud), and Spain (She Haunts my dreams).
Nearly a masterpiece.
on 21 June 2012
I find myself in my late 40s and unimpressed by much contemporary music. And then something comes along to re-awaken my interest, something that sounds new or fresh and interesting. Smoke Fairies certainly draw on the past - noticeably the blues and 60s/70s West Coast stuff; there are even echoes of Kate Bush - but they have drawn on those influences to make something rather magical. Their style of guitar playing (lots of finger-picking and slide) and the mood of several songs partly justifies the Americana tag that has been applied to them. But there is also something unmistakeably English about them, a result of the church-hymnal quality of the vocal harmonies, but also the pastoral and even whimsical sensibility of certain songs (Storm Song and Dragon, for example). Accomplished musicianship and good songwriting are here combined to winning effect to produce one of the best things I have heard in recent years. And if you like this, try some of the earlier stuff: the compilation "Ghosts" and the hard-to-get-hold-of "Strange the Things" are equally as impressive.