Little over a year ago Laura Cannell released the remarkable debut Quick Sparrows Over The Black Earth (review here), an instrumental album with tracks taken from music’s earliest sources and given a thorough, thrillingly modernist makeover. It was easily one of the best albums of 2014, but to tie it down to a fixed date in that way is somehow pointless and possibly even derogatory, given the way the tunes seemed to exist outside of time despite being underpinned by hundreds of years of musical history.
Fans of Quick Sparrows will be pleased to learn that Beneath Swooping Talons picks up where that album left off. Cannell’s fiddle and double recorder still dominate, and the improvisational, often impressionistic approach to recording is honed even further here. On top of the now-familiar eeriness of the music – much of which reflects or stems from the East Anglian setting in which it was recorded – there is also a new-found melodic and harmonic sense. The fearful, stop-start fiddle of opener All The Land Ablaze is almost vocal in its phrasing. For Sorrow Salt Tears is more reserved but no less powerful, and sees Cannell creating an incredible depth of sound from her instruments, as a wall of melancholy fiddle hovers between dissonance and harmony. On the startling Deers Bark, her double recorder technique builds up a scene using primitive, almost onomatopoeic sounds. Quavering, animalistic and lithe, it is a lesson in drawing out dramatic effect with minimal input and without the need for words. Be Not Afeard is another vivid harmonic piece, the ringing high notes just discordant enough to be bracing.
In fact, bracing is a good word for the majority of this album. Whereas its predecessor had moments of mistiness, a general feeling of occlusion and closeness, Beneath Swooping Talons is much more open. There is a crisp clarity to songs like Two Winters which means that, while this record is even more experimental than the first, it is also more immediately accessible. Cathedral Of The Marshes breaks the mould somewhat, returning to a dronier and more distorted sound, but it is followed by Conversing In A Dream, which is mellifluousness personified, to the extent that it resembles the simple repeated phrases of birdsong.
An appreciation of the natural world and rootedness in particular geographical landscapes are crucial factors in Cannell’s work. Her sound is increasingly pastoral although it never loses its wild core. This may explain the strange, almost uncanny, sense of otherness that cannot simply be explained by the sheer age of the music’s influences. There is something older even than music at the heart of Cannell’s compositions. It is something inexplicable but profoundly beautiful, and it has resulted in another triumphant album.
Review by: Thomas Blake
Release Date: 28th August 2015 via Front & Follow
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Photo Credit: Kevin Oakhill