I was blown away by Bitter Lullabies last year’s debut album from the Newcastle-upon-Tyne based Bridie Jackson and The Arbour, its bracing originality bringing a whole new sound to the folk music genre while yet drawing on firmly embedded traditions. Seeing them live was an equally exhilarating experience, so news of their sophomore album New Skin in such a short space of time was welcomed with eager anticipation.
The first full length recording to feature current violinist Rachel Cross, who joins cellist Jenny Nedick and percussionist Carol Bowden, with instrumentation embellished by double bass, viola and cajon, as before, a signature of the outfit’s individuality, all play bell plates, a sort of hand-chime.
Again, the music draws on both English folk traditions and Eastern European colours, the Baltic states especially, an influence derived from Jackson’s early years spent travelling with her composer father. Again too, there’s an intoxicating chill to the sound, a wintry purity (We Talked Again specifically mentions ice) that often belies the very earthy, passionate nature of the lyrics where she sings of being “starved of peace and stained by living” (New Skin) and of the “house that once was home the floorboards sulk; the windows cry you and I turn a blind eye” (Crying Beast) on songs frequently centred around fractured relationships.
Listening to the entwined harmonies on the disturbing Ellie with its mournful cello, you can imagine it being performed in the cloisters of some medieval monastery or cathedral, while the jazzy folk blues and tribal rhythm urgency of Diminutive Man (“in weakness evil lies”) is more evocative of gypsy camps and the closing piano backed croon of One Winter Evening is redolent of rural small town chapels.
There’s two non-originals here. A reworked version of last year’s fiddle stark, bluesy single, Scarecrow is first-person story of a bride who died on the night before her wedding by Louis Barabbas of Manchester’s ‘dirt-swing’ theatrical folk ensemble The Bedlam Six while, with its echoey harmonies, The Sandgate Dandling Song was penned by blind 19th century Newcastle fiddler Robert Nunn and based on a traditional Tyneside melody, though Cilla Black fans may be more familiar with it as the tune to Liverpool Lullaby.
If you need convenient labels, then perhaps a cocktail of the early Smoke Fairies albums, Les Mysteres des Voix Bulgares and Mahalia Jackson might be a convenient reference, but really they have a pigeonhole all to themselves.
Review by: Mike Davies
Full Album Stream:
24 May – Newcastle Upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, Cluny 2
30 May – Barnsley, The Civic
07 Jun – London, London FolkFest
06 Jul – London, City of London Festival – Folk In The Forest
19 Jul – Chagford, Chagstock Festival
26 Jul – Dumfries, Wickerman Festival
23 Aug – Market Harborough, Shambala Festival
25 Aug – Kettering, Northamptonshire, Greenbelt Festival
26 Aug – Groningen, Noorderzon Festival
30 Aug – Bingley, West Yorkshire, Bingley Music Live
20 Sep – Ramsbottom, Ramsbottom Festival
Self released, out now (Available Via Bandcamp)