I thought of starting this piece by commenting on the rarity of having a cello in the lineup of bands I listen to. But then I thought of… Hannah Miller in The Moulettes, Rachael McShane in Bellowhead, Ray Cooper, recently moved on from Oysterband. Ok, maybe not all that rare, so what is it that sets The Jellyman’s Daughter apart? In contrast to those bands, there’s only two of them, Emily Kelly and Graham Coe. The cello is Graham’s primary instrument, so it’s at the forefront of almost all their arrangements and they’ve found abundant ways to use it, melodies, bowed accompaniments, bass lines and percussion. Moving on from the cello, it’s Emily and Graham’s voices that linger in the memory. Individually, they can vary from pleasingly lyrical to arrestingly sharp and all points between but it’s when they combine in harmony that they really demand your attention.
Emily and Graham only started making music together in 2012 but since then their reputation has spread beyond their Edinburgh base with forays around Scotland and down to London. But, with the release of this, their self-titled debut album, it won’t be long before they are much more widely known. Of the 11 tracks, 9 are self-penned songs, there’s one traditional and, the surprise element, a cover of Lennon/McCartney’s Can’t Buy Me Love. This is taken slowly, the cello setting up a staccato bass(-ish) line as the only accompaniment to Emily’s voice, Graham later joining with vocal harmonies. The Beatles it isn’t but Emily’s soulful voice delightfully ornaments the melody and transforms the song into something you might hear in a smoky jazz cellar, but then there’s the solo cello arrangement that takes you to a different place entirely.
Can’t Buy Me Love is one of 4 tracks with arrangements that Emily and Graham handle entirely themselves. For the remainder they’ve made good use of the fertile acoustic music scene in Edinburgh and brought in Jenny Hill on double bass, she’s toured with Eliza Carthy and featured on the last Daimh album I reviewed for Folk Radio UK (review here). The double bass frees up Graham’s cello to add flowing refrains into the melodies. Arrangements also feature Gerry Kelly on banjo and Pete Coutts from Aberdeen based Ballad of Crows on mandolin. Hailing from further afield, but attracted into the Edinburgh milieu at least temporarily, there are contributions from Iowa based Natalie Brown on fiddle and Cera Impala on banjo with her husband Dirk Ronnenberg on fiddle.
This support swells the sound but it remains uniquely defined by the voices, cello and guitar of Emily and Graham. Both can take the vocal lead but it is when they combine their voices on harmonies that they create some of the most arresting passages, sometimes blending sweetly, at other times adding tension. Emily’s voice, especially, able to cut across the instrumentation with a blues-tinged sharpness.
This is a debut album that has continued to grow on me each time I’ve listened and promises much for the future. Emily and Graham, after just two years playing together, have found a characteristic sound, writing songs that effortlessly incorporate so many elements. Blues, bluegrass, country, you can hear them all but the sum is greater than those parts and I wouldn’t begin to categorise their music into any of those pigeon holes. Their sound is fresh, personal and well worth a listen.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
07/11 – Haddington – Bridge Centre, supporting Southern Tenant Folk Union
11/11 – Edinburgh – The Roxy (The Living Room)
22/11 – Edinburgh – The Mash House, supporting Lainie & The Crows
03/12 – Edinburgh – The Voodoo Rooms, supporting Lewis Rumney
17/12 – Edinburgh – The Voodoo Rooms, supporting Kat Healy
Order as digital / CD via Bandcamp