Martha Tilston’s voice is as lovely as ever on Machines of Love and Grace: a fine and evocative album. Praise, too, for her choice of supporting musicians whose virtuosity compliments her artistic vision.
The opening track, Stags Bellow, invokes the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. At the heart of this song, suffused with longing and loss, there’s a restless soul moving uncertainly forward impelled by an aversion to conformity and an unquenchable yen for the perfect, all-fulfilling passion.
Blue Eyes is a declaration of love found, tumbled into and reciprocated – sort of: Tilston’s characters often glance, or are called back, to the past. Her lyrics often hint at the precariousness of the present – its dependence on the balance between memory and imaginative foresight to give it meaning and stability.
Perhaps that explains the references to Joni Mitchell that colour this album. There ain’t too many frying pans* in popular song, as far as I know, but when they materialise, as one does in Stags Bellow, a multi-harmony back-up vocal, a la Joni, might be anticipated: Butterflies is a praise-song from Martha to Mitchell which works beautifully in its way but Tilston is too talented a performer to need to echo her heroine quite so overtly; in its favour, Butterflies is very open-hearted and Tilston’s sincerity is poignant.
Wall Street, More and Shiny Gold Car draw attention to Tilston’s responses to the enigma known as capitalism. Wall Street is a pensive reflection on money’s ebb and flow; More, arguably the most commercial track on the album, considers the insidious power of advertising; Shiny Gold Car tells of a flight from the leering blandishments of the music-biz: it’s a warning against making a pact with that particular devil.
The anti-war song Silent Women suggests that there is female collusion in the suppression of protest against man’s inhumanity to humankind: this is a quietly reproachful song and all the more powerful for that.
Overall this is an intricate and poised album; Tilston’s songwriting and the instrumental arrangements have a thought-provoking depth. In spite of its generally soothing sound it considers some of the anxieties present in surviving the twenty-first century with one’s self-respect and sanity intact. I wished for something more discordant at times, though. Something a bit brassier.
* ‘My Old Man’, Blue, Joni Mitchell, 1971.
‘… And when he’s gone, me and them lonesome blues collide
The bed’s too big, the frying pan’s too wide.’
Review by: Rose Collins
Sat 27th Oct PENZANCE: Acorn Arts Centre
Tue 6th Nov Glastonbury Assembly Rooms
Thu 8th Nov Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, London
Sat 10th Nov Hebden Bridge Folk & Roots Festival, West Yorkshire
Tue 13th Nov Komedia, Brighton
Thu 15th Nov Phoenix Arts, Exeter
Thu 21st Feb (2013) Colston Hall, Bristol
Machines of Love and Grace is released via Squiggly Records on October 22nd. Buy it via our store here.