Don’t let the title worry you. Karine and the lads of Lau aren’t engaging in a bit of WWF Smackdown aggro. The latest in the impressive history of collaboration between the various members of Lau and Karine Polwart is an enthralling five-track EP, the first in a series of three such releases planned by Lau.
Four of the five tracks on this releases are cover versions, more details on those in a moment. The opening track, Evergreen, is one of Karine Polwart’s own, arranged by herself and Lau together. Karine’s vocal performance is, as ever, impressive and compelling, providing harmonies, as well as the lead vocal. Aidan O’Rourke’s typically haunting fiddle contribution lifts the song to another level and the EP is given a strong, confident opening. Evergreen is followed by Dave Goulder’s January Man, an expertly painted lyrical picture of passing time. Kris Drever provides harmonies and, as we’ve heard before on several occasions, Polwart and Drever have found a peerless vocal empathy.
Kris Drever’s distinctive Orcadian voice is put to excellent use in a confident rendition of Lal Waterson’s Midnight Feast. Aidan O’Rourke and Martin Green approach the instrumental backing (with Kris Drever’s guitar to the fore) in democratic spirit, with subtly constructed atmospheres that show careful and considered restraint.
What I’d been looking forward to most of all, though, was how these seasoned collaborators would present From Rags To Riches. The Blue Nile have had a significant, if somewhat sporadic, influence on my own musical tastes over the years. This cover version is far more reminiscent of the gently up-tempo original than I expected, but with an acoustic presentation that presents a clearer and less synthetic approach.
Lord Yester was written by Roy Williamson to showcase his combolins, a pair of instruments he developed to compliment each other in performance. In this outing, the complimentary sound is provided, as expected, by the vocal pairing that helps make this collaboration such a success. The gentle air from Aidan O’Rourke that opens the songs seems to set the tone perfectly.
Taken as a whole, this release serves as a short and very convincing reminder of the wealth of talent present in the latest generation to take up the tradition and move forward with it. It’s little wonder that every artist involved continues to enhance both their own reputation and the music we’re able to enjoy. I’m glad this has turned out to be a productive meeting of musical minds, rather than a clash of the titans.