Sweet folk music to soothe the soul
Just like three years ago, I’m suddenly being inundated with attention-grabbing music from the Northeast of England. Among them, Alex McRae and Emma Davis — a.k.a. Skylark Song — have made an absolutely beautiful debut album.
On the first track, “Take Your Place”, Emma actually uses her sweet, expressive voice like an instrument in its own rite. It soars like a swallow on a summer thermal while she accompanies herself on violin. Meanwhile, McRae picks a mean guitar in the background.
Normally, traditional folk music doesn’t appeal to me; but this is what I can only describe as nontraditional folk, combining folk sensibilities with West Coast cool. The duo’s musicianship on guitar, mandolin, banjo, and violin is quite extraordinary.
I just can’t get enough of “Buried Again”, primarily because of McRae’s finger picking guitar. Their gorgeous voices complement each other like honey and toast on this delightfully haunting song.
For those of you who’ve never visited the area, “Northumbrian Borders” — primarily sung by McRae — captures the brooding spirit of that mysterious area as well as anything I’ve heard before. It could only be bettered if they did a remix that included some Northumbrian pipes, but that might just be me.
The title track “Relent” again features Davis on lead vocals. McRae creates a sound on the guitar that could be from a madrigal or something from John Martyn’s back catalogue. The song just begs for radio play.
Even when Skylark Song delve back into tradition for songs like “One Who Lies” and “One More Day”, they keep my interest because Davis’s voice is so remarkable.
This is timeless, grown-up folk music that will appeal to fans of Nick Drake, Fleet Foxes, or even Joni Mitchell.