Kyle Carey – The Art of Forgetting
Riverboat Records – 26th January 2018
The follow-up to her breakthrough North Star album sees the New Hampshire-born Gaelic Americana singer-songwriter Kyle Carey further exploring her musical fusion of Celtic and Appalachia while augmenting it with inspirations drawn from the American south and Cajun. This time around, recording in Louisiana, she’s enlisted folk A-list support in the form of Rhiannon Giddens, John McCusker and Mike McGoldrick, not to mention guitarist Sam Broussard from Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, brass section Kai Welch and Josh Scalf, percussionist James MacKintosh, bassist (and producer) Dirk Powell and mandolinist Ron Janssen with Gillebrìde Mac’IlleMhaoil and Liz Simmons providing backing vocals.
It opens with the sensuous Celtic-infused end of a relationship title track, The Art of Forgetting, a slow waltzing, fiddle-coloured number inspired by Sonnet XLIII and One Art from, respectively, Pulitzer Prize-winning American poets Edna St. Vincent Millay and Elizabeth Bishop. Things turn jazzier on her reading of the Irish ballad Siubhail a Rùin, the refrain translated in Scottish Gaelic with Welch and Scalf on trumpet and sax and Powell behind the piano.
Inspired by both the preceding track and Farewell to Tarwathie, it’s a return to fiddle-led Celtic waltz territory for Come Back To Me, Powell here providing accordion on a plaintive song of longing for a lover’s return from the sea, conscious that the longer he’s away, the more likely he’s d.
The English folk tradition informs Opal Grey, an emotionally turbulent song of post-love grief washed with percussive waves, its extended pathetic fallacy allegory inspired by both Sir Patrick Spens and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Indeed, the influence of poets looms large, both W.B.Yeats, Robert Frost and Virginian Louis McNeill casting their spells over the banjo-founded Tell Me Love, Carey’s pure vocal taking on country hints on a love song dedicated to her Italian philosopher partner, Carmine Colajezzi. He’s the inspiration too for Sweet Damnation, another number with prominent banjo accompaniment alongside fiddle that harks to memories of their first date.
McNeill’s influence resurfaces on the jaunty lope of Tillie Sage, named for the poem of the same title, a brass-burnished song of love gone sour that draws on Miss Havisham from Great Expectations for its portrait of a woman fallen from “heaven’s gates, to fiery hell” after love’s betrayal.
Sung in Gaelic, if Sios Dhan an Abhainn sounds melodically familiar, that’s because it is a translated rework of the American gospel Down To The River To Pray, Welch providing soulful New Orleans flavoured trumpet. Maintaining the gospel feel, Rhiannon Giddens joins Carey to add harmonies on the haunting For Your Journey. At two minutes it is the album’s shortest number, their voices backed by just a muted drone. It’s an ambiguous song of a journey or escape variously inspired by St. Matthew’s Gospel, the River Styx and the Underground Railroad, the network of secret routes and safe houses used by African-Americans to escape from slavery in the 19th century. It also refers to the North Star, the title of her previous release.
Piano and fiddle again underpinning the fingerpicked acoustic guitar, the album’s final stretch begins with Evelyna, another absent lover number, this one inspired by John Hiatt’s Crossing Muddy Waters. The last of the Gaelic tracks comes with Puirt à Beul, a mouth music song learned from Hebridean singers Christine Primrose and Mairi McInnes, Carey duetting with South Uist Gaelic singer Mac’IlleMhaoil (MacMillan) with Powell accompanying on piano.
It closes with the sole cover, Powell providing backing vocals and McGoldrick on flute on a lovely, wistful version of Trouble in the Fields, Nanci Griffith and Rick West’s poignant account of a farming couple resolving to pull together in the face of hard times, a muted, distant fiddle coda bringing it all to a close.
Underscoring both her skill as a storyteller and her background as a musical ethnologist alongside her songwriting craft and understated, intimate and engaging vocals, if North Star was a coming of age, Carey’s third album marks her blossoming into a rich maturity.
The Official Release of The Art of Forgetting is on 26th January 2018. Pre-Order it here.