Having previously released three independently produced solo albums, classical bass player turned singer / songwriter Amy Duncan has released her fourth album, Cycles Of Life, on Linn records. With Producer / Engineer Calum Malcolm at the helm (Sandy Wright, Bellowhead, Heidi Talbot – the list is endless) Amy has been able to present her considerable vocal, instrumental and song writing skills in a far more polished offering than her previous releases. Add to this backing provided by Fiona Rutherford (harp), Ted Ponsonby (dobro), Robert McFall (violin), Brian Schiele (viola), Su-a Lee (cello) and Liam Bradley (drums) and Cycles Of Life becomes a significant step forward in Amy’s career.
Cycles Of Life is a tranquil yet attention grabbing opening. In addition to Amy’s immediately arresting vocals, the strings are incredibly effective – a dash of electronics, tinkle of clarsach and Amy’s own measured, hypnotic double bass. The gently uplifting Song to Myself is not as introspective as the title might suggest, more a statement of self-belief; beautifully framed in a fragile vocal performance. Also presenting a brighter aspect is the album’s single – Navigating, a forward-looking and positive affirmation that life moves on.
Two tracks seem to relate periods of personal darkness more authentically than any others. The more complex structure of When The Dead Are Watching, with alternating voices and the quiet addition of sombre cello, exudes a ghostly chill; while the gently absorbing arrangement of harp, bass and guitar in Crack In The World belies careful, considered attention to detail. In contrast, there are moments of more charged emotion in Ivory Tower, with enraged vocal and slack twelve-string. There’s further variety in the vocal approach in Wild Animals where Amy’s careful harmonies combine with an ethereal, throaty cello. In Your Very Soul the sound is familiar, but at the same time, there are unique approaches with repeated piano phrases.
If it wasn’t clear enough already, the individuality of this album shines through with Running Boy. There’s a carefully practised restraint in the vocals, beautifully matched by Brian Schiele’s viola. Very, very careful timing and Amy’s accent is there, but only very gently.
Strings and production provide a carefully crafted platform in support of Amy Duncan’s vocals and song-writing. The combination Mr McFall’s Chamber, Fiona Rutherford and Ted Ponsonby with Amy’s bass presents a richness and depth that’s a hallmark of Calum Malcolm’s presence as a sound engineer.
Amy’s song-writing is emotive and deeply personal, and the listener may be tempted to dwell on the darker side of the album’s content. But Cycles Of Life is a progressively positive, and ultimately hope-filled, experience.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Cycles of Life is released on Linn Records on April 15th.
You can catch Amy at The Gallery Cafe in London for her London Album launch on 4th May. Further details available on Amy’s website: