From hijabs to hen harriers, Instar is the cutting-edge of contemporary folk music, an important album that sees folk’s poet-laureate at the height of her creative powers.
After the success of her debut solo album Sweet Visitor, which won her the coveted title Folk Singer of the Year at 2015’s BBC Folk Awards and a nomination for Best Album, expectations for Nancy Kerr’s new offering were always going to be high, but Instar amply exceeds all anticipation. There aren’t many artists in folk music whose work so completely epitomises and at the same time transcends the genre, and can do do it with such grace, tenderness, and sheer brilliance as you’ll find on Instar.
Inspired by the natural world and by contemporary nature writers, the album (as its title suggests) encompasses themes of transformation, transience and rebirth, expressed through a diverse and very timely range of subject-matter including gender identity and sexuality, struggles for human rights, love and consent, colonialism and the effects of austerity on our culture and ourselves.
The result is a remarkable and exhilarating collection of songs: From the hymn-like Silver Sage, and the dark exuberance of Crow’s Wing, to the defiant fragility of Sisterhood and the lively, upbeat rhythms of Light Rolls Home, every track is genuinely extraordinary: lyrically spectacular, with an impressive depth of field and a compassion that is simply staggering.
Nancy’s iconic voice is as glorious as ever, and with Tom Wright’s astute production, the Sweet Visitor Band never dominates but adorns these songs to perfection. The band, now an established unit, features James Fagan (bouzouki, mandolin, guitars, voice), Rowan Rheingans (banjo, bansitar, fiddles, voice), Greg Russell (electric guitar, voice), Tim Yates (double bass, voice) and Tom Wright (drums, percussion, guitars, Wurlitzer piano, voice). With special guest CJ Hillman on 12-string electric guitar and pedal steel, and with these songs written specifically with them in mind, the Sweet Visitor Band provide some of the tightest, freshest, most inventive sounds in contemporary folk. Special mention is due to Rowan Rheingans’ extended solo bansitar intro on Kingdom and to Nancy’s sparkling electric guitar on the title track, as well as to Tom Wright’s magnificent drums on Fragile Water.
Instar is not merely good, it’s vital, visceral and urgent – balm for our woes, hope for our future: an essential companion for these turbulent times.
Instar is released on 16th September; exclusive signed copies can be pre-ordered now from nancykerr.co.uk.
Nancy Kerr and the Sweet Visitor Band will be touring the album in September/October and are also performing at this month’s Towersey Festival (dates at nancykerr.co.uk/gigs)
Photo Credit: James Fagan