Having left One Little Indian for her own label, despite all the inherent problems that entails there’s a carefree air to the breathily voiced singer’s third studio album (mostly recorded, like her debut, in her garden shed), undoubtedly influenced by the fact that, while her previous release carried the weight of miscarriages, she embarked on this as a mother of two.
Not surprising then to find images of birth and new beginnings sprinkled through the songs; the arrival of Spring in the breezy sway of Blood-Red Coat with its line about shedding the old skin, the reference to a house as a womb on Hallelujah where an angel (a dove, I’d assume) coos from the roof, and the fairly self-explanatory Wedding Day. Where the last album was full of murder, domestic violence and political strife here you get the domestic contentment of the keyboard accompanied Lynch Pin (featuring Erin McKeown on backing vocals) with talk of fumbling for the alarm clock and bathing the kids.
But there’s a flip side too because many of the songs are full of an awareness of mortality and how things can slip away. With contributions from Adem and Harry Harris, Last Week Me may be a fiddle bouncy skipalong, handclappy little tune but within it lurk lyrics about time slipping by and people gone before you get to say goodbye while slow swaying ballad Most Of It talks of how right now is all we have and Take Me Home, the second wedding number on the album, complete with backing choir, follows the same carpe diem theme.
Slow swelling ballad Don’t Ask Me opens with the line “are you saying I’ve got to sit here and watch all your lights turn cold?’ before proceeding to talk about life as a tsunami with every day a different danger while darker yet, the bitterly titled All Is Well takes place at a funeral (“your new bed sinks into the ground”) as she sings about how he’ll miss his son and daughter growing up.
And yet, throughout, she steers a note of optimism and fortitude. The same song has an image of the deceased watching over his bereaved family, the self-admonishing Story Of My Life has her parent? lover? God? tagging along in spite of everything while the sparsely arranged Two Houses is built on an image of steadfastness in the face of changeable weather and on piano ballad Ocean she sings ‘I’ll be your rock, just hang on and don’t let go’.
Some may regret the absence of the more biting observations (and literary references) of the previous albums, but even they must surely be swept up by the sheer sense of joy this carries with it.
Mike Davies March 2012