Lori Watson – Yarrow Acoustic Sessions
Isle Music Scotland – Out Now
Yarrow Acoustic Sessions is the latest release from Scots singer and fiddle player Lori Watson. Inspired by the Yarrow Valley near her home in the Scottish Borders, Watson weaves together traditional tales and ballads with a bold contemporary artistic vision to create striking and unforgettable interpretations of much loved Scottish classics.
Each track is a landscape in itself, hand-crafted with precision, beauty and a touch of magic; none more so than the opening number ‘Yarrow (a charm)’ which through its bold simplicity and feature of the breath is an awakening introduction to the rest of this album. Watson’s vocals are powerful and tender and the track is intimate, arousing emotion and feeling, with fairly minimal instrumental backing.
‘The Flytin o Life an Daith’ picks up the pace with guitar backing from Steven Byrnes (Damian O’Kane and Kate Rusby) and is more contemporary in feel with the addition of electronic keys played by producer Duncan Lyall. Watson’s fiddle playing is a stunning asset to the track too, rich and clear in tone. ‘Fause Fause’ is probably the most abstract track on the album and begins with the eerie soundscape of ruffling strings and pizzicato. Watson variates her vocal technique to produce a more vulnerable tone, with commendable vocal control and to great effect. Accompanied only by the random plucking of strings, the exposed and quivering vocals stop you in your tracks to listen to the heartbreaking words of the final verse. It is a very different rendition to Sheila Stewart’s well-known version of the song – in which she emphasises the hurt, anger and disgust of betrayal with volume and power – but it is effective nonetheless and refreshing to hear the tale told from the different perspective of hopeless despair.
‘The Sense of Being Lonely’ acts as a brief interlude and a breath of fresh air. Less than a minute long, the track features spoken word and field recordings from the Yarrow Valley. It is followed by ‘Fine Floors in the Valley’ which showcases a beautiful musical partnership between Watson and accordionist Fiona Black (The Outside Track). The pair, no strangers to collaborating with each other, complement each other beautifully as Black adds a depth and lusciousness to Watson’s vocal and string parts. Together with Lyall on bass, the shapes, swells and sounds they manage to create from just four instruments is a testament to their high level of musicianship.
The album is the culmination of eight individual singles, released one by one over the course of a year, and two additional tracks. It is a rare approach to forming an album, however, there is something special about the individual character in each track and how they come together to form an unexpected journey for the listener. From the edge of your seat to sitting back in relaxation, it is a journey through suspense, the unknown and the familiar.
Lyall is quickly becoming regarded as one of the top folk producers in the UK and it is little wonder why. From the crystal clear vocals and simple piano accompaniment in ‘Dowie Dens o Yarrow’ to the funky ‘What a Voice’, which showcases Watson’s fearlessness in interoperating traditional Scots song, his attention to detail is impeccable. The album concludes with ‘October Song’, a beautiful and sincere track with vocal harmonies and expansive soundscapes. Electronic keys are mixed with Byrnes’ gentle acoustic guitar playing and there is a meditative and dreamlike quality to the song, which after the last line makes you want to listen to the whole album again.
Yarrow Acoustic Sessions is a bold and tender piece of art; current and timeless. It takes songs heard before into new and exciting dimensions with cultural integrity and authenticity. Whether you’ve heard Watson’s material before or not, sit yourself down and introduce yourself to this intriguing record.
Order via Bandcamp: https://loriwatson.bandcamp.com/album/yarrow-acoustic-sessions
Photo Credit: Lousie Bichan