Well it’s surely been worth the wait as we now have a follow up to the highly acclaimed Wild And Undaunted from Lisa Knapp. That debut caught just about everyone off guard and resulted in two BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominations and notably topped the MOJO critics poll as Folk album Of The Year – a hard act to follow, but fear not Hidden Seam is every bit the worthy successor.
With her partner, the gifted musician and composer Gerry Diver taking the production reins and bringing his considerable multi instrumentalist skills to bear, Hidden Seam is also, by our terms at least, something of a star studded affair. There are impressive collaborations with James Yorkston, Marry Waterson, Alasdair Roberts and Kathryn Williams, while Martin Carthy and Pete Flood also contribute.
Gerry is a skilled arranger and the use of strings in particular add to the sense of a bold and adventurous sonic palate, but from the start it’s the songs that really impress. Shipping Song uses the arcane shipping forecast as the template for one of the most original and astonishing songs of the sea you could wish for. Still broadcast four times a day on Radio 4 long wave, as those who follow the cricket if not the forecast itself will be all too aware, there is something peculiarly British about it, to the extent that it featured in the opening spectacular of the 2012 Olympics. It has many fans and the BBC newsreader and announcer Chalotte Green has said, “The shipping forecast is the nearest thing to poetry that I ever get to read on the radio.” Seamus Heaney, sadly recently departed, put it into a poem and it’s perhaps his influence that has brought it to Lisa.
How ever she arrived at it, when she wraps her voice around Rockall, Cromarty, South Utsire, North Utsire and so forth the effect is quite magical and makes for a spectacular opening gambit. I can understand comparisons to Bjork in particular and perhaps even a young Maddy Prior, but over the course of her two spectacular albums, Lisa has surely earned the right to be considered a unique voice. There is a spine tingling quality to her singing, while the arrangement with its programmed sounds and odd blips and scrapes, strange sub-aqua bass and percussion adds to the mystery of, “This strange salty fable.”
The title track that follows repeats the trick, dissolving into an equally strange mix of vocal ticks and utterances that have a percussive effect but then build through layers of harmony into something more ethereal, both otherworldly and brilliant. It’s as if some spirit or force of nature has temporarily taken over proceedings, using Lisa as the channel and she sings, “And all the songs and all the singers, sweet, sweet melody running, running through fingers, there is a hidden seam.” Is there another plane of existence, a portal that she has passed though and a thread that connects her to all of the other singers who make that same journey?
Ruler Of The Rest has a strange, eastern exoticism to it and suddenly takes flight on waves of swooping strings and spangling harp glissandos. It’s open an expansive, which makes the contrasting Black Horse, tightly wound in rhythm and a spiralling vortex of intertwined voices all the more dramatic. It’s the first of the collaborations and Lisa is joined by James Yorkston and Marry Waterson. There’s a sudden change of pace towards the end as the latter’s voice comes to the fore, a disorienting reminder to expect the unexpected if magic is the goal.
Seagiver builds steadily to a great climactic swell of strings, as Gerry pulls out all of the stops. The arrangement is perhaps the one that most makes me think of the likes of Bjork or perhaps even more, Kate Bush, yet Lisa proves a point by unquestionably sounding like no one else.
The same can be said for the eerie Two Ravens, which features a typically economical but taut guitar line from Martin Carthy. The song seems to slip through several movements in the course of its four minutes and again the strings feature adding considerably to the drama.
It’s the two part Hunt The Hare, reprised from the recent EP, though that is the albums mini-epic, clocking in at eight minutes. With Alasdair Roberts unmistakeable voice and fluid guitar taking over from Lisa harp to create the main riff for the second part. It’s a genuine tour-de-force, starting slowly and allowing Lisa captivating voice to lead you into the song. As Alasdair joins, with Gerry adding cello and piano, the pace picks up and the momentum gathers, driven along with a gentle, muted percussive beat and a scrape of strings, as the repeated verses circle back and forth between the two voices.
The album finishes with the final collaboration with Kathryn Williams adding her voice to Hushabye. The breathy toned harmonies and gentle wash of the lullaby lilt are given an extra poignancy by the upward tug of Gerry’s pedal steel. The song then quotes a couple of lines from the shipping forcast, “Rockall – rain at first mainly fair – slight or moderate.” The young Bonnie Driver adds her voice too, teasing us in our reverie with “Golden fishes, sleeping fishes.” The song pours a soothing balm onto the turbulence and drama of what has gone before, as a fitting and luxuriant conclusion.
The CD is handsomely packaged with wonderful photos by David Angel and the shot of Lisa recumbent in a rowing boat as the sea laps at the bow is darkly dramatic. It’s a strong metaphor for what’s inside with drama and some darkness. But there is nothing so tempestuous to leave you floundering and just as there is light breaking the lowering clouds, there is much that is bathed with the magical glow of moonlight or the dawning sun. The hidden seam is unpicked and a vibrant creative force flows down the years to anoint Lisa, filling her lungs with the gift of song. The result is a masterpiece.
Review by: Simon Holland
Hidden Seam is released on September 16, 2013 via Navigator Records
14 September King’s Place London (full band)
18 September Farnham Maltings Surrey (duo)
23 September The Junction Cambridge (duo)
28 September Glee Club Nottingham (duo)
12 October West End Club Barry, SOUTH WALES (duo)
13 October The Forge at The Anvil Basingstoke, HANTS (duo)
26 October The Acorn Theatre PENZANCE (trio)
8 November Ruskin Mill Stroud, GLOUCS (duo)
15 November Ashcroft Arts Centre Fareham, HANTS (duo)
22 November Foundling Museum LONDON (duo)
6 December The Atkinson Southport, Merseyside (Full Band)
Hidden Seam is still available as a Ltd Autographed Edition via the ProperMusic Website here.
Photo Credit: David Angel