“Ghost Folk” artist Allysen Callery is back with a new release that reaffirms her reputation as a leading singer-songwriter. The Song the Songbird Sings is the Bristol, Rhode Island guitarist’s first full length album since Mumblin’ Sue, her outstanding 2013 release that caught the ear of American and European audiences. The new release highlights her trademark British folk revival sound of the 60’s and 70’s which this time includes layers of sonic colour from guitar wiz Bob Kendall.
Songbird is the sixth album from Callery, who is a veteran of the Newport Folk Festival where she sang last summer with Haunt the House. In 2014, she played SXSW where she was recognized by NPR’s Bob Boilen as one of 50 “intriguing unknown artists.” She’s an astute songwriter and a clever guitarist, creating gentle atmosphere while not overwhelming her listeners.
Her songwriting is heavily Influenced by the late Sandy Denny, but her voice is gentler, often barely rising above a whisper. Listening for the first time elicits feelings of déjà vu. These songs are new, so it’s not that you’ve heard them before; but somehow it feels like maybe you have. Her vocals are warm and calming and her lyrics airy and mystical.
The opener It’s Not the Ocean has a soothing effect, like the warm embrace of a mother comforting a child. The lyrics evoke distant sadness, yet they’re eerily familiar, and her fingerstyle guitar work is sublime. The song is a grown-up lull-a-bye, in a literal sense, a song about a love lost at sea.
It’s not the ocean
It’s the water that will
Drag you under.
Another highlight, Bluest Bird is a mysterious love song steeped in the natural world.
Bluest bird flew once just by my window
Now I know what you were trying to tell me now
On Sundown, she totally reworks the Gordon Lightfoot classic. Her unassuming guitar style and delicate phrasing add an air of authenticity to the lyric “creepin round my backstairs.” Perhaps this eerie version should be the original – it better matches the intent of the lyrics. Listen to her version and you might agree that it’s Lightfoot’s version that seems more like the radio friendly cover.
Shoot Me starts off as a spoken word whisper. It’s a blues and is about as down and dirty as Callery gets on this album.
I met a man he was a very bad man
Tell him by his old granddaddy hands
And he’ll lead you down a long twisty path
Full of old bones and broken glass
Her dreamy narrative streams along in semi-consciousness, seemingly lost deep in woods. On The Snow Fox, she sings:
How then you closed the door
And you turned the lock
You became a witch
Who lived inside a log
Deep inside the forest like a fox
The album closes with Aliana, perhaps a dirge for a lost soul.
The endless sky of blue
Washes over you
Smallest of the white flowers
Is a part of you.
Though the album is based in the natural world, Callery’s lyrics slip into the realm of humanity, a theme commonly found in the progressive British folk of the late 60’s and early 70’s, a genre she grew up with. She pays due homage to that tradition on the album. Her reputation will assuredly continue to grow with this release.
The Song the Songbird Sings is released Friday 13th May and can be ordered via Bandcamp here: allysencallery.bandcamp.com
Exclusive Album Premiere
Ahead of its release tomorrow Allysen has given Folk Radio UK readers the chance to hear the album for the first time below:
The Cover art is by Lithuanian artist Daria Hlazatova.