Since their debut, ‘A Different Season’, was first released in 2008 The Shee have established themselves as one of the most exciting and fresh folk/roots band in recent years. The group; Lillias Kinsman-Blake on flute, Shona Mooney on fiddle, Rachel Newton on electroharp, clarsach and vocals, Olivia Ross on fiddle, viola and vocals, Laura-Beth Salter on mandolin and vocals and Amy Thatcher on accordion and harmonium are known for their mix of folk, bluegrass and trad delivered with affecting vocals and lush instrumentals, ‘Murmurations’, their third release, delivers once again this fine balance.
The album title explains The Shee’s collaborative nature; as the band note “we feel that the music on this album is particularly honest. We keep returning to the dynamic of the individual and yet the interaction between the group and the way our music draws heavily on our individual influences while maintaining a collective sound. This is illustrated through the murmuration of starlings”. Recording mainly live, the sleeve notes tells us that the album was recorded in just four days, the energy and dynamism of a live recording is well captured.
Down in the Broom, is a subdued but effective intro to an atmospheric album. A stripped down track on viola and fiddle with Olivia’s vocals accompanied by the delicate harmonies of Rachel and Laura-Beth Salter which sets the scene with an rich interpretation of the trad favourite. In contrast Starlings an instrumental which comprises two tunes, Tools and Too Many Socks is a larger affair with Lillias’s flute and Laura-Beth’s mandolin accompanied by the beat of Rachel’s electroharp which gives slowly way to Amy Thatcher’s accordion for the toe-tapping conclusion.
The moody Child ballad, Three Nights, returns to the vocals with some slyly sharp accordion. Rachel’s soft vocals contrasted with the vaporous harmonies of Olivia and Laura-Beth perfectly capturing the sense of menace and dark atmosphere of the gruesome narrative. Certainly, in the traditional tracks, such as Down in the Broom and the album’s closer An Till Mise Chaoidh The Shee illustrate just how experimental yet respectful of tradition they are. The slow-air opens with some evocative and haunting fiddle which slowly merges into a bristly conclusion; notes tingling like soft rain punctuated by Rachel’s quietly passionate vocals. Intended as a love song for the Island of Lewis, the serenity and vitality of the isles is subtly tangible.
An energetic, pulsating rhythm is palpable in the aptly titled Strut whilst Inge’s/The Musical Chisholm Household/Height of Rudeness is a breezy piece of fiery vigour. Highlights include Olivia’s Pity Me which sees a return to the country infused tale of strength and resilience delivered with a throbbing and rather funky mandolin and harmonium whilst Our Bottle and Sugarwine show just how fruitful the song writing is on the album. Our Bottle, Laura-Beth’s break-up song, layered in the frustration of gin and disappointment, opens with a numbed and muffled echo of a recording which, as with the song’s narrative progresses, is brought into stark focus by sobriety and an effectively powerful vocal break. Sugarwine on the other hand is a bright, feel good piece on the promise and excitement of the beginning of a relationship.
Mostly self-penned, with a couple of traditional tracks thrown in for good measure, ‘Murmuration’ revels in more complicated harmonies, and layering of musical influences and styles than in The Shee’s debut or 2010 follow up ‘Decadence’. With some beautifully sensitive musicianship and stunning vocals it’s hard not to be left spellbound.
Review by: Billy Rough
Murmurations is self-released on Monday 8 October 2012 and distibuted by Proper Music. You can buy if from our Store here.