Tilly Moses – Alight & Adrift
Ginger Dog Records – 2 June 2017
Just nineteen, born in Suffolk and now based in York, mandolinist and singer-songwriter TillyMoses has been making music since she was thirteen, both supporting and playing with the likes of The Unthanks and the late Dave Swarbrick. Having released (under her given name as Tilly Dalglish) a debut EP back in 2014 and a conflict-themed live demo album with Sam McKie last year, she now returns with Alight & Adrift, her first album proper.
With the exception of the traditional Hares On The Mountain, a psych-folk arrangement by herself and Finn Collinson for bodhran, harmonium drone and recorder, all the material is self-penned. She draws on influences that range from The Guillemots and Damien Rice to Lisa Hannigan, Ida Wenhoe and Rachael Sermanni to craft a hypnotic dark pastoral folk web that belies her young years.
Along with Collinson, the album also features McKie on guitar, BBC Folk Award Winner Sam Kelly, Mercury Prize Nominee Kit Downes, Mawkin’s fiddle player James DeLarre, Ellie West providing whistles and Ginny Davis on cello, with songs that variously address mental illness, climate change, and gender politics.
Two numbers are revisited from the Painted Face EP with new recordings of Footprints, a drone-like number about impermanence leaving behind a legacy on which her pure vocals are accompanied by accordion, fiddle and harmonium, and relationship-themed Lonely Birds with its spare, plucked mandolin and Downes’ piano score.
There are also three studio versions of songs from War In Words. Recalling Thea Gilmore, the jauntily mid-tempo slightly gypsy rhythms of Paper Conflicts is about how we put short-term profits and gain before the consequences of climate change. While, with fiddle, bouzouki and whistles, Fear With Fire is a Celtic trad-flavoured number about overcoming anxiety and lack of confidence that ends in a lively jig. The third, with some strident bass, whistle and acoustic guitar work on the lengthy atmospheric instrumental intro, One of Them is a heady, rhythmically muscular call to not be one of those who look on in apathy at the poverty, starvation and suffering around them.
It’s a new number that opens the album, the plucked, spare Definitions a refusal, on behalf of all young women, to be pigeonholed by stereotyping, its line “I will always vote for hope” sounding like something Corbyn might pick up on for the next election. Showcasing her mandolin work, Water Man is a dreamy but barbed song about needing to have a balance of the elements to sustain a relationship (“He’s a spark, and I’m a flame, and I’ll burn us both down”), Sam Kelly duets on the melodically catchy and rather lovely Harbour, another song about sharing a life together, while, predominantly mandolin with cello arriving in the final stretch, Flatlands is basically a love letter to the fens and heaths of her childhood home.
The album enters its last lap with Ragdoll, all rippling guitar pattern and suitably ghostly atmospherics set to mental health themed lyrics about feeling like you’re coming apart at the seams, and ends with a shot of Whisky, an acoustic waltz time memoir of first meeting her collaborator and partner McKie that interpolates Collinson’s Bits and Pieces whistles and fiddle waltz.
With a solid reputation on the folk festival circuit and ringingly endorsed by Ange Hardy, blazingly alight and far from adrift, this should firmly plant her feet on the ladder to the genres upper rungs.