Hot on the heels of The Unthanks ‘Mount The Air’, Bella Hardy’s seventh studio album With The Dawn arrives with a similarly progressive take on the Folk genre. Hardy, current owner of BBC Radio 2’s Folk Singer Of The Year award, is already known for stretching the boundaries of her musical palette, but this time she’s penned an album of originals (with assistance from Ben Seal and Cara Luft) that combine Seurat’s penchant for impressionism with Pollock’s love of chaotic expressionism. Or, if you like, she’s drawn all over the lines.
Such is her confidence, Hardy retains a coherent narrative throughout a record that pays due reverence to Folk’s wellspring whilst wading in the waters of ambient and trip-hop experiments. Quite a feat, and with Mount The Air, a sign of the abundant creativity within the genre’s walls. Analysis apart, this is a fabulous record from start to finish.
The first two tracks engage with brass and strong hooks, opener The Only Thing To Do spinning rhymes around a belter of a chorus most pop bands would die for. First Light Of The Morning is a reflective ballad with beats that echo Lamb in their Gorecki pomp. It has an extended introduction that fools you into thinking the song is instrumental before a single piano chord calms the heartbeat and Hardy’s voice stirs the emotions. Both tracks beguile with fresh invention but provide plenty of opportunity to sing along.
Jolly Good Luck To The Girl Who Loves A Soldier is a World War One lament from the perspective of those left behind to watch and wait and worry. Written for Songs Of The Voiceless project, sad and sinister effects crawl underneath the lyric, which is carefully plotted and heavy with the tone of reprimand and common-sense. It takes in all sides of the conflict to become wonderfully universal; ‘To all those who think that having one as big as theirs will stop the bomb’ is a clear message as to where Hardy stands.
Another example of Hardy’s wish to experiment is clear in You Don’t Have To Change (But You Have To Choose). A vocal initially submerged rises to the surface even as industrial rhythms, stop-start verses and call-and-repeat choruses take over. After the similar Another Whiskey Song the piano of Oh My God! I Miss You feels positively traditional. Gifts is an eerie ode borne aloft on picked fiddle, acerbic brass and the remembrance of a certain Ms Bush in the refrain ‘..it’s me, I’ve come home’.
The final song, And We Begin, is a beautiful ballad shorn of accompaniment and showered in positive vibes, ending on the repeated phrase ‘There’s nothing that I wouldn’t give / To start and end my days like this’. Giving the lie to anyone who thinks hope isn’t the best way forward, it’s a fitting end to an album that deftly bridges new and old, forging new links between the two without forgetting the importance of the song, all of which on With The Dawn are another feather in the cap for an award winning artist.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Released 30th March via NOE Records
Bella Hardy’s With the Dawn Tour kicks off in April. Full details & tickets here.