Eighteen months after the release of their critically acclaimed EP The North Farm Sessions, Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell’s debut album Kite combines an eclectic assortment of influences, spanning traditional folk and jazz to skiffle and blues. Although Kearney and Farrell met whilst both studying folk and traditional music at Newcastle University, they each have their own distinctive approaches to songwriting and performing. Ostensibly, Jonny is indebted to twentieth century American icons and Lucy to more traditional English folk song.
Kearney received the Alan Hull prize for songwriting whilst at university, and the reasons why are obvious when you consider the range and depth of the songs throughout Kite. ‘Green Leaved Trees’, for instance, showcases the easy harmonies of the two voices in a song whose wistful refrain brings to mind Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’. Adrian McNally’s sympathetic production (and piano playing) imbues this song particularly, and the album as a whole, with a sense of nostalgia – it is as if these songs have been around for decades. ‘Just Like The Old Days’ reinforces this with Rain Dogs-esque junkyard percussion (along with Farrell on the saw) providing an unsettling accompaniment to Kearney’s scratchy, eerie vocals.
‘Down in Adairsville’ and ‘Peggy Gordon’ provide opportunities for Farrell’s velvet voice to flourish alongside sparse, spacious arrangements of old folk songs from Appalachia and Canada respectively, infusing them with a Northumbrian bleakness. The duo came to prominence after touring with the Unthanks and members of Rachel and Becky’s band appear on Kite, bestowing some of the drama and mystery so apparent on their album The Bairns. The up-tempo ‘Stand-Up Show’ makes effective use of Chris Price’s ukelele, adding a liveliness that perhaps makes this the most accessible song on the album, whilst retaining the idiosyncratic vocal exchanges that bind the record together.
Jonny Kearney himself describes the album as ‘a sort of an attempt at taming or harnessing that overwhelming feeling of being surrounded by chaos, and trying to make out of it something beautiful.’ Appropriately, it’s an album that shouldn’t really work, but from the clashes of styles and influences emerges an accomplished, compelling and cohesive record.