When listening to Emily Maguire’s latest album ‘A Bit of Blue,’ it’s worthwhile setting aside time to listen and let the album really soak in. As the clouds part and that blue shines through the grey, the rewards are many.
It takes a lot of chutzpah if you’re going to cover Sandy Denny’s immortal Who Knows Where The Time Goes. All the more so if you happen to be a female singer-songwriter of folksy inclinations. There have been several, Judy Collins, Kate Rusby and Mary Black among them, but, while well executed, most have gone for a faithful, if not reverential, approach. Only Nina Simon’s version, akin to Roberta Flack’s take on First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, really offers a new interpretation. That now also holds true of Emily Maguire whose fifth album A Bit of Blue closes with a spellbinding, atmosphericWho Knows Where The Time Goes with electronic effects, shimmering guitar and percussion that evokes night winds blowing across empty deserts as a backdrop to Maguire’s hushed wearied vocals.
It’s a striking end to a haunting and sublime album, more pared down than her 2013 A Bird In A Cage, that opens with the piano and cello lost-love ballad Memory, sounding like classic Janis Ian. Its reflective and thoughtful tone is echoed throughout the songs on the album. They demand attentive listening, for the arrangements as much as the lyrics are mostly born from a dark period of her life that saw her caught in a lengthy period of depression triggered by chronic tendonitis in her arms that left her unable to play her instruments for two years. This is specifically the case with the piano accompanied title track with its imagery of the sky, drained of colour. Likewise, I’d Rather Be addresses her bipolar disorder, choosing life and endurance over passive acceptance and resignation as she sings “I would rather be the shooting star than the empty space between” and “I would rather stare through the blackest night than never see the breaking dawn.”
As on Memory, broken relationships also provide the thematic thread for the defiant on It’s Alright (where she reminds me of Julia Fordham) and The Words That I Could Say. On the latter, the lightly rippling melody provides a contrast to lyrics about not being able to find a way to leave a psychologically abusive relationship.
Death provides the subject matter for two numbers. The atmospheric Stone and Sky is a meditation on mortality, a nihilistic companion piece perhaps to Getting Older’s wry musing on ageing and dreams turning to dust, while it arguably reaches its darkest depths on Banks Of The Acheron. Borrowing its title from the river in Hades across which, in Greek mythology, Charon ferried the dead, it’s a spare, poignant portrait of a miscarriage.
Elsewhere, the slow barroom blues waltzing Now Somehow, co-penned by producer Nigel Butler, relates the story of a friend who had it all and lost everything. Rather than dwell on the negative, the song talks of having the strength and determination to overcome adversity, much like Maguire herself and the sentiments of the title track. Likewise, no relation to Joni Mitchell, For Free is a serious but playful commentary on the anxiety and corruption of modern life and the lack of personal contact engendered by social media networking that yet still finds a reason for optimism.
A Bit of Blue is a deeply rewarding album, it coincides with the publication of Emily Maguire’s second book, Notes from the North Pole, a collection of her poetry and songs.
A Bit of Blue is out Now on Shaktu Records
Emily Maguire UK Tour Dates
Sat 18 March – Junction 2, Clifton Road, Cambridge
Sat 1 April – Artrix Arts Centre, Slideshow Drive, Bromsgrove
Fri 28 April – Chapel Arts Centre, Lower Borough Walls, Bath
Sat 13 May – Helmsley Arts Centre, Meeting House Court, Helmsley, York
Sat 27 May – The Acorn Penzance, Parade Street, Penzance, Cornwall
Sat 10 June – The Stables, Stage 2, Wavendon, Milton Keynes
Sat 24 June – The Cluny, 36 Lime Street, Ouseburn, Newcastle upon Tyne
Fri 28 July – Norden Farm Centre For The Arts, Altwood Road, Maidenhead
Sat 29 July – Hanger Farm Arts Centre, Totton, Southampton
Photo Credit: Richard Ecclestone