A collaboration between ethereal London-based baroque folk quartet Firefay and 70s survivor Alison O’Donnell is a match made in psych-folk heaven. A former member of the pioneering Mellow Candle, O’Donnell’s star is once again in the ascendency after some excellent work with Brit-folk revivalists Owl Service and Dublin’s United Bible Studies. Firefay, meanwhile, are gathering something of a cult following with their unique, medievally-nuanced blend of English and French traditions. A combination of the two must surely be a recipe for the perfect period-piece, a glimmering throwback to the innocent days of Steeleye Span and Mr Fox, right?
Well, yes and no. O’Donnell has never been one to dwell on the past, or to dodge a pressing issue. Since Mellow Candle’s occasional but brave sideswipes at the Catholic Church she has shown herself to be a singer with a social conscience, and she kicks off this record with Living On The Concrete Path, a brief but moving account of destitution. As an opening track it is a statement of intent and an assurance that O’Donnell has lost none of her fire.
That’s not to say that this record is short on the fragile eeriness the genre requires. Under The Church Tower is a fantastical nursery rhyme, melding Firefay’s French accordion to fairytale lyrics sung with a ghostly echo. White Lilies cranks up the folk-rock guitars and Fairport-style fiddle. Hart Fell comes across as a slowed-down psychedelic pop song. Its lyrics reference the sad withdrawal of Syd Barrett and the general sadness of growing old and leaving things behind. Its sparse musical backing and measured vocal delivery recalls the avant-pop of Nico as much as any British folk artists.
The Day The Winged Fury Came is a chilling, timeless-sounding tale with its roots in World War 2, a drone of guitars faithfully replicating the terrifying sound of air raid sirens. Less dramatic but just as satisfying is Come All Ye Malcontents, one of a handful of songs on Anointed Queen that starts off as a fairly regular folk-rock piece only to break down mid-way and turn into something else entirely: in this case, a cosmic, keyboard-led meltdown. Strawberry Wine moves from Wicker Man whimsy to full-on freak-out. Back on planet earth, O’Donnell angrily tackles the horrors of the bullfight in Blood On His Horns, before slowing it right down for the crystalline Golden Carpet, a song both panoramic and intimate.
It is almost tempting to read this album’s title as O’Donnell’s tongue in cheek reference to herself, but on repeated listening it becomes apparent that perhaps we should be taking it more literally. O’Donnell has earned her place as the fairy godmother of acid folk. Anointed Queen is another pinnacle in her consistently excellent career, and in Firefay she has found a set of musicians eclectic and imaginative enough to provide a backdrop for her beguiling songs.
Review by: Thomas Blake
Out Now on Stone Tape Recordings
Order via Bandcamp