Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter, Amy Duncan, has enjoyed a surge in popularity since the release of her critically-acclaimed fourth album, Cycles Of Life", in 2013. Little wonder, then, that there was considerable interest and anticipation surrounding the recent release of "Undercurrents", Amy's fifth album, which was launched at Edinburgh's Voodoo Rooms on 25th February.
The event was compered by spoken word artist, Rachel Amey, who recited a number of her entertaining and thought-provoking poems, before introducing another Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter, Lisa Rigby, to get the evening's music underway with a few of her absorbing songs and a winning cover of Hamish Henderson's anthemic "Freedom Come All Ye".
Suitably warmed up, the capacity audience gave a warm and enthusiastic welcome to Amy Duncan, who was joined, on this occasion, by her long-term collaborator, Fiona Rutherford (harp), as well as Lawrie Macmillan (acoustic bass guitar), Donald Gillan (cello), Rick Bamford (drums and percussion) and Lisa Rigby (harmonies and backing vocals). The set opened with the dramatic "Different Dimensions", its bold, imaginative and, at times, deliciously discordant instrumentation reminiscent of early Pentangle and its eastern flavour enhanced by some exotic percussion and stirring cello.
Amy Duncan informed us that the songs on "Undercurrents" would be played in a different running order from the album, joking that the sequence of the guitar-led songs would be determined simply by the positioning of the capo on the neck.....She then took the tempo down a few notches with the hypnotic and gently-lilting "The Good Life", featuring soothing harp. Amy's vocals swooped and soared on the elegant "Fragile From The Storm", notable also for exquisite harmonies and vibrant cello. Chiming guitar ushered in Amy's graceful and heartfelt vocals on "No Harvest" ("....I cast all of my hopes out on the field, but this land will never yield, and there will be no harvest..."). More gorgeous vocal harmonies produced a choral effect on the life-affirming and uplifting "The Truth Never Changes".
Amy Duncan then altered the dynamic slightly as she took to the piano to deliver a trio of stunning songs. With its gracefully melancholic and repetitive piano chords layered with elegant cello, "Lights In Houses" hinted at Steve Reich/Brian Eno ambient minimalism and brought a warmly affecting vocal from Amy. "All The Love" featured memorable harmonies and counterpoint vocals ("....All the love, like blossom falling on the grey street....."). The haunting "My Silver Net" delivered more graceful piano and intricate harp and cello interplay and finished with a gently trippy passage of jazzy improvisation.
"Constant Without Me" was a tour de force, vocally and instrumentally. This magical and dreamlike song (inspired by a life-size Antony Gormley sculpture which was located for a time in Edinburgh's Water of Leith), was layered over a gently shifting bossa nova beat on the verses and offered up sparkling harp, towering cello and glorious bass and percussion in the bridge. The eastern vibe returned with the soaring vocals and harmonies and swaying percussion, cello and bass on "Undercurrents", which closed the main set.
As an added bonus, Amy Duncan treated us to two of the standout songs from her "Cycles Of Life" album, the moving "Song To Myself" and the sweeping and majestic "When The Dead Are Watching".
This was a hugely impressive performance from Amy Duncan, which demonstrated the full range of her talents as a singer, musician, songwriter/composer and arranger. Her quietly powerful songs deal with universal themes like overcoming adversity, the wonders to be found in nature and the healing power of love and they connect with the listener on a personal level, touching the heart and the mind. Amy Duncan's new album, "Undercurrents", has already received a number of glowing reviews and looks likely to bring her the greater recognition and success which her talents deserve.
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