I’ve been listening to this E.P. over and over, trying to pin down what it is about it that stands out. Other than the lyrical delights, the rich, clear vocals and bare-bones arrangements, there’s a spark of something very intriguing in there that can be difficult to pin-point.
It’s almost a year since Folk Radio UK featured Ups & Downs by Gareth Lee and Annie Baylis, as song of the day. At the time Alex remarked that they made a very promising duo. Well, they’ve taken that to heart and have been performing live ever since. In March they returned to Folk Radio UK for an impressive exclusive session. Unfortunately the studio recording of their planned debut E.P. seemed to be taking them further from where they wanted to go with their music. So Annie and Gareth decided to forgo the studio and, instead, record Live sessions in a variety of Cornwall locations. This decision, and the addition of string quartet arrangements by Sarah Freestone, has resulted in their debut E.P., A Little Light, that lives up to, and exceeds, the promise of the first session last year.
Choices opens the E.P. with the strong pairing of Annie & Gareth’s vocals in a gently upbeat song supported by piano and guitar. Asking questions about the direction we take in our lives, and just how that route deviates from what we actually want to be doing; the song displays a prophetic edge and gets the E.P. off to an impressive start.
Although, on the surface, Susie is a morose song that references an unhappy history; the song is lyrically positive and forward looking. Unrequited love needn’t be the end. It’s upbeat; with the merest suggestion of percussion, a guitar governing the pace and string arrangements that shine through.
Everchanging benefits from a totally stripped back setting featuring just guitar and vocal, reminiscent of Tracey Thorn’s approach on A Distant Shore (for anyone who remembers). Annie’s lilting vocal takes the lead in a long, hard look at the unreachable. Sarah Freestone’s strings bring the song to a graceful conclusion.
A Little Light takes the contrast in Susie and turns it around. The lightweight guitar and vocals belie the melancholy nature of the song, but the plaintive violin and sombre quartet add atmospheric tones. Lyrically, it’s a pure delight, in its sidelong glance at the human condition…
You weren’t born to be Superman
‘cos you’ll never learn to fly
there’s a hole in this cape of mine
At 2 and a half minutes it’s a short song… but be patient, leave the silence at the end to play out, there’s a treat in store.
As a hidden bonus, the track includes Ups & Downs, as performed in that session last November.
Ups & Downs reminds us that Garth & Annie really can do proper melancholy, and the gentle country twang makes it even more effective.
If anything, this is the most commercial track on the E.P., it’s more likely to attract radio air time. I’m tempted to think this was a deliberate move, and highlights one of the things Gareth & Annie seem to want to achieve with the E.P.:
A Little Light is a statement of intent, a laying of cards on the table. It says ‘this is who we are, this is where we’re going‘. Although it doesn’t come across as such, it’s something of an unpolished gem. It’s honest, it’s open and it invites you to take what you will from it. And I think that’s what I’ve been trying to pin down with successive visits to this lovely release. It’s like an unfinished signpost on a windy cliff-top walk. It shows the direction, the arrow points along a clear path, but who knows where the path will lead?
Review by: Neil McFadyen
07 Nov – Performance Centre, Falmouth
16 Nov – Gylly Beech Cafe, Falmouth
19 Nov – Zafiros, Truro
26 Nov – The Harbour Tavern, Mevagissey
28 Nov – Truro Methodist Church, Truro
29 Nov – Acoustic Routes, Cambridge
30 Nov – Old Queens Head, London
Order it here: garethandanniemusic.co.uk