Well, that’s the first of my best albums of 2015 sorted, then. They Promised You Mercy is the follow-up to 2012’s Spectators and seventh release from Newfoundland singer-songwriter Amelia Curran. Impossible though it may seem, this is even better than its predecessor, which, let us not forget, featured San Andreas Fault, indisputably one of the finest songs of the 21st century.
In the past her husky, slightly twangy vocal have suggested hints of Thea Gilmore, Joan Baez and Dar Williams and to some extent these are present here too, but listening to the shuffling I Am The Night you might also be put in mind of Suzanne Vega while, in terms of musical influences, opening number Somebody Somewhere, from whence comes the album title, wraps its defiant, optimistic lyric in a melody that can’t help but evoke Paul Simon’s Gracelands album. It even has a na na na na na chorus.
Curran’s lyrics often work better heard than read. On paper their intent can sometimes seem elusive, buried beneath the striking abstract poetic imagery and turns of phrase, but listening to them, with the frequent use of a repeated refrain, they have a resonance that infuses their meaning into your heart and mind.
Listen to the slow strummed, steady marching Coming For You where she sings “I’m coming for you like the worlds on fire I’m coming for you like a gospel choir” straight after a triumphant swell of guitars and you can feel the emotional intensity in your every fibre.
She says the album’s generally about depression and struggle (themes that clearly inform Strike Up The Band), but there’s an upbeat quality to the music and her delivery that speaks of triumph rather than defeat. Case in point being the love and loss of Song On The Radio, a punchy, banjo accompanied countrified track that also adopts a steady marching beat, where you understand lines like “I made a fool of all my rules I broke the wall with the looking glass” on an emotional rather than intellectual level.
Produced with a crisp clarity by Michael Phillip Wojeweda, it balances the anthemic quality of something like Never Say Goodbye and the hammond driven blues of The Matador with the pared back fragility of the folksy waltzing finger-picked Time, Time with its heartbreaking line “You only promised me pages I promised you books” and the late night vulnerabilities haunting the soft hushed intimacy of The Reverie and the organ and brass backed soul-blues Fables & Troubles.
It ends with the spare acoustic You’ve Changed, Christine Bougie’s lap steel adding a melancholic note to the quietly devastating marriage of loss and resilience that runs through an album that offers greater rewards with each successive play. On The Matador she sings, “Follow me further and mark all my words.” You’d be foolish not to take up the invitation.
Review by: Mike Davies