Martha Tilston’s Lucy & The Wolves is her third solo album (although her backing band The Woods feature heavily throughout ) and is her first new album since 2007’s Of Milkmaids and Architects (2008’s Till I Reach the Sea being a compilation EP).
The album marks a move away from the more political and social concerns of her earlier work (although these are still prevalent on Lucy & The Wolves just more subtly so) to a greater concern with love and nature (perhaps expected due to Martha’s break from recording to have a baby). Lyrically the work is more complex than her earlier work and seamlessly blends heartfelt worldwide concerns (climate change is a constant theme) with more personal, yet universal, issues.
“350 Bells”, for example, inspired by the World Council of Churches campaign to ring their bells on 13 December 2009 to highlight the issue of climate protection and change during the United Nations summit in Copenhagen, is a modern folk-protest song, with mentions of white shirts, delegates in meeting rooms, riot gear and the anxious chorus: ‘we are living in interesting times’. Martha’s talent, however, is in her ambiguous lyrics which never overtly preach; remaining loose and interpretative in their narrative.
The sweet and fragile “Lucy” is a much more personal piece, soaked in the sheer Englishness of its folksy atmosphere, with talks of fire glow, old sofas, barns and wood smoke, Martha’s voice is even reminiscent of Vashti Bunyan at times. Indeed the song reflects one of the key themes of the album; the declaration and promise of love. Affirmations of affection populate throughout; “Rockpools” with its opening line ‘I’m an acorn first, an old oak next’ dwells on the inequality of love whilst simultaneously offering a worship to Cornwall’s coast and a nostalgia for things past. “The Cape” provides a similarly powerful avowal with the refrain ‘I’d love you till the Capes fall in’.
The promise of change is evident in the life-affirming and rising “My Chair” with its pledge of ‘a new wave has begun’ and the ‘glorious waves that carry us away’. “Seabirds” suggests freedom and respect using the age old metaphor of the bird as symbol of liberty: ‘two terns flying over the quay … no need to hold each other down’. “Who turns” finds Martha at her inquisitive best providing, or rather demanding, the ambiguous question ‘who turns the wheel?’
“Searching for Lambs” proves Martha’s folk worth as she delivers an ageless rendition of the traditional folksong. Recorded live in a Somerset forest, with only the sounds of the breeze and the evocative cackle of a murder of crows for accompaniment, the confident rendition recalls Anne Briggs in its simplicity and force. Shirley and Dolly Collins and June Tabor have all recorded versions of the same track and Martha’s version is a first-rate addition to this lineage.
With so much love on this album it runs the risk of becoming sickly sweet but Martha has a mellow and sensitive touch which steers the album in the right course and provides a melodic, timeless and mature piece of work. Martha’s poetic and ambient lyrics perfectly suited to her soft, silky voice. The plush blend of bass, trombone, guitar, piano, bouzouki and mandolin are ably supplied by The Woods’ Matt Tweed, Tim Cotterell, Luke Parker, Beth Berry, Matt Kelly, Robin Tyndale-Biscoe, Mark Fisher and Cate Ferris whilst Lamb’s Jon Thorne’s evocative bass on “Rockpools” recalls Danny Thompson’s work on Nick Drake’s “Five Leaves Left” and, like that album, there is a real concern with nature and the eternal throughout. All of the songs are rooted in the land; places and memories are important as is the promise and hope of change.
Lucy & The Wolves is a cracking album, beautifully produced, which illustrates Martha’s growth and maturity and is a fine compliment to her earlier work. Those new, and not so new, to Martha will find the album an absolute delight.
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