In Here’s Where Tomorrow Starts, Karine Polwart revisits some previously recorded work and provides a sneak preview of what’s to come in her new album, due for release in 2012. The main content of the DVD is the music, of course, but this is much more than a beautifully filmed ‘greatest hits’. In addition to the fresh re-workings of seventeen tracks (eighteen if you include the photo gallery), there’s interview and documentary material that includes some excellent commentary on Karine’s songs, influences and approach to music.
Follow The Heron is fine introduction to the DVD and the artists taking part, with its bewitchingly soft opening and gentle setting. This is a clear indication of what’s in store over the next hour. Supporting Karine Polwart’s enthralling songs and superb voice are her core band of Steven Polwart and Inge Thomson. Steven’s contributions on guitar and vocals are acknowledged as essential by his sister, and the richness of their combined guitar and vocal sound are the bricks and mortar of the DVD. This is especially apparent on Daisy and Rags to Riches. Their voices are an especially fine match, with subtle and precise harmonies. Inge Thomson, from Fair Isle, applies her hypnotic multi-instrumental textures and sweetly haunting vocals to Karine’s songs throughout, with her usual skill.
Karine has long sought Signy Jakobsdottir’s collaboration, and her inspired percussion, marimba and glockenspiel contributions compliment the essential sound of the core band, most noticeably in Waterily and the new song, Tinsel Snow. Kim Edgar provides piano accompaniment to a few tracks, including a duet with Karine on Robert Burns’ Now Westlin’ Winds. It’s satisfying to hear that my fondness for this song is shared by Karine Polwart. There’s a moment when she may be rushing things, just a little, in a song where every word is there to be savoured. But then she does exactly that – every word of the final verse, which I’ve seen bring tears to people’s eyes when Dick Gaughan sings this live, is relished.
Although Karine Polwart’s songs tend towards the reflective and sombre, there are still lively moments. With the help of a ukulele, some close harmonies, and a jaunty beat I’m Gonna Do It All is more fun and more essentially optimistic than it ever was.
It’s fitting that this retrospective should take place, near Karine Polwart’s home, at the idyllic Heriot Toun Studio in the rolling Border hills. This Earthly Spell was recorded at the purpose built living/working studio. She is very much at ease here, whether it’s as a peaceful space for writing or as a rehearsal/recording base. She’s also aware of the countryside-based folk singer cliche, and revels in it. She’s so at ease with the location that the recording at times moves to the outdoors – birdsong, sheep and midges included. The other new song on offer, Salter’s Road, is recorded on, you guessed it, Salter’s Road itself, and the ethereal, enthralling, epic Tongue That Cannot Lie is performed in a minimalist style by a drystane dyke. The story has all the depth.
A retrospective? Yes, but, as the title suggests, this release also looks forward. Karine Polwart feels she’s matured as a recording artist – more able to find her own vision of her songs, rather than make them the product of her collaborative skills. Watching these performances it would impossible to disagree. There’s no doubt that she’s at the very pinnacle of Scottish music. If Here’s Where Tomorrow Starts is anything to go by, we can look forward to her reaching even greater heights in the future.