Since the 2009 release of The Poozies’ last album, Yellow like Sunshine, the band has been trimmed to a four-piece, with the 2012 departure of founding member Patsy Seddon. The current line-up – founder members Mary Macmaster and Sally Barker have reconvened with long-time members Eilidh Shaw and Mairearad Green to create Into the Well, their fifth long-player in a 25 year career. That’s not to say that they’ve been slacking: aside from touring, they’ve been busy with their individual careers and an impressive catalogue of collaborations, with the more recent including Mary working with Sting on his album If on a Winter’s Night while Sally was a perhaps unlikely participant in the BBC’s the Voice last year, reaching the final and performing with Tom Jones.
Produced by Mary’s musical partner, percussionist Donald Hay and recorded by the band’s live engineer Joe Peat, the new album is a further collection of the Poozies’ skilful arrangements and masterful interpretations of traditional songs and covers, alongside five of their own compositions.
Accordion and harp launch the fast-paced, invigorating Percy’s, a four-tune medley starting with Duchess of Percy, the first of the album’s three traditional pieces that melds into a rousing fiddle and accordion arrangement of Capercaillie’s La Paella Grande, Mairearad’s accordion-led Pam Holden’s Reel and a rather jolly version of Simon Bradley’s Alone in the Castle. Deep, dark electro-harp notes usher in Southern Cross, with a calm backing ‘heave ho’ sea shanty refrain. This isn’t a work song, though; Sally’s delectable vocal tells Andy Griffith’s tale of a Second World War pirate ship and the strange life led by its crew while they spend a gruelling four hundred days at sea.
Mary’s harp-work gives an unusual electronic poppy feel to the beautiful traditional puirt a’beul Chuirinn, which is paired in another medley with the lively accordion and fiddle of Memoirs of a Geezer, which Mairearad composed for her brother. Another of Mairearad’s pieces follows – the gorgeous epic soundscape Actiltibuie fires the imagination to conjure images of what life must be like in the idyllic village lying on the northwestern coast of Scotland. The welcoming atmosphere takes a chilling turn with Sally’s new song Ghost Girl, which documents a return from beyond the grave to attack a less-than-truthful former lover. The lyric’s description of the narrator’s demise is beautifully poetic: “I followed my heart into the valley of oblivion where Death threw his velvet cloak over my head and that same dark sky came crashing over me,” while a midpoint harp part is appropriately both haunting and hypnotic.
A collection of polkas exorcises the spirit and reinvigorates the soul to prepare the way for the Poozies’ earworm-planting version of Tim Dalling and Julia Darling’s celebration of life’s detritus, Small Things in the Cupboards. Eoghan, a second traditional puirt a’beul is served as a sandwich between the film noir-like opening and glistening harp of Donald Shaw’s Men in the Mountain and Steele the Show from former and founding band member Karen Tweed. Some listeners might recall the melancholic breath of country air that is Three Chords and the Truth from the closing credits of the BBC drama Case Histories, where Lynn Miles’ original recording was used. It’s positioned in a similar setting here as the album’s stripped back final track. Gone are the electric slide guitars and banjo, to be replaced by simple strummed acoustic and the Poozies trademark sound.
The band’s skilful arrangements and thrilling playing ensure that the their original pieces sit comfortably alongside carefully chosen covers and traditional high-energy Gaelic puirt-a-beul, jigs and reels. With Into the Well, The Poozies have created another sparkling contemporary gem of an album, expertly combining and contrasting genres while keeping a distinctive traditional Scottish feel.
Review by: Roy Spencer
Three Chords And The Truth