Amy Duncan is an Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist, whose career has been on a steadily upward trajectory in recent years. With her recent, sixth, album, "Antidote", she has exceeded high expectations in delivering a highly accomplished and coherent piece of work, her best to date. The album, which has already received several glowing reviews, was recorded at home by Amy Duncan and then mixed and engineered in the studio by Calum Malcolm (notable for his work as a producer for The Blue Nile). Drawing on influences as diverse as folk, pop, jazz, ambient and classical, and intensely personal as ever, the 11 songs on the album take the listener on a free-flowing and quietly uplifting journey, with Amy cleverly weaving in her field recordings of everday sounds to enhance the sense of intimacy and serve as staging-posts along the way. Amy Duncan's musical arrangements are intricate but spacious and her pure and emotive vocals have never sounded better, displaying an impressive range and an ability to switch seamlessly from a high register to dramatic deep notes reminiscent of classic Kate Bush.
The launch of "Antidote" took place on 9th May in the intimate and atmospheric setting of the Traverse Theatre Bar in Edinburgh. The event was opened by spoken word performer, Rachel Amey, who read a number of her entertaining, thought-provoking and life-affirming poems. Another Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter and composer, Chris Bradley (also a member of the band Aberfeldy), got the evening's music underway with some deft acoustic guitar picking and a few of his rhythmic, melodic, keenly-observed and wryly entertaining songs. Doug Tiplady provided some lyrical, expressive and improvised saxophone accompaniment.
Amy Duncan (vocals, guitar and keyboards) was welcomed warmly to the stage, joined, for this performance, by long-time collaborators Fiona Rutherford (harp) and Lawrie Macmillan (acoustic bass guitar) plus Liam Saunders (keyboards and field recordings). Sue McKenzie, who plays some deliciously cool and swirling saxophone on the "Antidote" album, was, unfortunately, not well enough to join Amy's band for this show. The set began with four songs from the new album, starting with "Steady The Bow", featuring Amy Duncan's lilting and soothing vocals over gentle waves of harp and acoustic guitar. The first use of field recordings brought added edginess to the dramatic middle eight. Inspired by a dream, the darkness in the lyrics of "The Severed Head" contrasted cleverly with the calm and reassuring vocals and gentle harp and guitar, while the quietly passionate ending delivered a sense of catharsis ("...In the field where I stand, Make a fire with my hands, It will leave a mark on the land, Like a bruise on the face of a woman."). Recorded sirens and cool synth phrasings provided an atmospheric introduction to the melodic and quietly affecting "Alison", which included a majestic chorus (with backing vocals courtesy of Lawrie and Liam) and delightful harp and vibes-like keyboards. Birdsong recordings and a graceful piano motif from Amy Duncan ushered in "Golden Fox", which was notable for gentle and wistful vocals, an arresting mid-section sung over rippling piano and synth and an elegant piano solo to finish. Remaining at the piano, Amy then delved deep into her back catalogue to treat us to the quietly captivating "Clouds" (from the 2007 album "Story Of A Girl").
Two more songs from "Antidote" followed, beginning with the enchanting "Lost Balloon", in which the gentle vocals, guitar and harp had the effect of wrapping the listener in a warm cocoon of tranquillity. "Pieces Of Me" opened with breezy and refreshing vocals and increased in tempo and urgency towards the end, accentuated by bold bass runs (...Just when I think there is nothing left to feel, Another layer is revealed, Raw and real..."). The rhythmic intensity of "Ivory Tower" (from 2013's seminal album "Cycles Of Life") produced a passionate and defiant vocal from Amy Duncan and some muscular playing from the band.
Returning to the new album, "The Journey" opened with recorded sounds from a bustling train station, giving way to spacious instrumentation and the most delicate of vocals, which occasionally dipped into that arresting deep register. A choppy bossa nova vibe introduced a feeling of slight unease in the middle eight, before the journey entered its peaceful conclusion. "Clearing" featured a gently soaring (at times, semi-whispered) vocal from Amy, underpinned by chiming guitar and brooding bass lines, and finished with a rippling, trippy keys/synths passage.
As Amy Duncan took to the keyboard once more, the set took an unexpected twist, with Doug Tiplady (who had never met Amy or her band before) returning to the stage to contribute some beautifully- constructed saxophone fills and solos to what would be the last two songs of the evening. From last year's "Undercurrents" album, the haunting "My Silver Net" featured elegant piano and achingly beautiful vocals, finishing with a short passage of cool and sweet jazzy improvisation. The album launch ended, fittingly, with the tour-de-force of a title track, "Antidote". Recorded car noises gave way to repetitive and hypnotic marimba-like keyboard lines, producing an oriental feel reminiscent of Ryuichi Sakamoto or David Sylvian. The edgy despair of the first part of the song was a precursor to some spirited marimba and saxophone interplay and then a heady burst of optimism and release at the conclusion ("...And my fate is not sealed, I am protected by a shield, I wear my hope like a coat, And this is my antidote.").
This absorbing and mesmerising set from Amy Duncan and her band was a delight from start to finish. Amy's elegant, eloquent and captivating songs deal openly and honestly with universal themes and are full of striking imagery. She has a quietly engaging style and connects with the listener on a personal level, creating a very special headspace for artist and audience to share for the duration of the live performance. Amy Duncan has produced an exceptional new album in "Antidote" and this excellent launch gig did it full justice. She is one of the most singular talents in the Scottish music scene and deserves to be widely heard.
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