There are albums that have been described as “a breath of fresh air”, a phrase which can be taken either figuratively or quite literally. Carol’s debut record fits the latter category like a glove, with its evocative ambience, the special aura of the cool summer’s day. A vision of fresh linen, indeed, as conjured by the pallid texturing of the artwork too. The album is simply scored and deftly recorded, stripped back to essentials – that means just Carol’s voice and her guitar or piano, with a tasteful modicum of additional expert enhancement from Neill MacColl (guitar/s on two-thirds of the tracks) and producer Boo Hewerdine (occasional guitar, piano or backing vocals). The cumulative effect of this soundscape is absolutely lovely.
Seven of the tracks are Carol’s own compositions and a further three co-writes, with the odd-track-out being a sparse piano-backed cover of the Beatles’ Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds that in jettisoning the ornate, wildly distracting trappings of psychedelia delivers a more concentrated experience, almost an air of unassuming innocence. Carol’s own writing, in contrast, is couched firmly in what might be termed the art-folk mode; subject matter includes nostalgia and memory (the jaunty Residue and the wistful Leaving), the encroachment of age (the title song), and genius loci (Dark River, The Wave, A Little Piece Of Land) and its effect on personal experience (Love’s On Holiday). Billy Marshall, on the other hand, provides a fine contrast with its historical focus (telling of the King of the Gipsy Tinkers) and lively setting.
Carol’s delicate, charming, softly expressive vocal delivery is naturally moulded, controlled, simple and soothing but at the same time heartfelt and gently thought-provoking. Carol’s voice is warm and mature, and it lulls and welcomes the listener. There are times (Like Oxygen) when I could almost compare Carol’s music to that of Bridget St. John, in that at first it might seem almost to pass you by. But this isn’t meant in any way as a criticism, rather to convey that compelling quality of drifting perceptiveness which permeates her world-view. It’s also easy listening – in the sense of easy on the ear, comforting – but in no way vapid or insubstantial.
The whole of Linen is characterised by its air of quiet accomplishment, so in that context it may come as a surprise to discover that this album is Carol’s debut recording, the result of a long-term ambition only finally achieved now, in her late-50s, It’s good to learn that Carol is already planning her next album, Continuum, which will feature the results of a songwriting project co-writing with women at different stages of motherhood. She’s also intending to work on a separate project (Hill) based on the lives lived on the hill above the town of Wirksworth. Plenty to keep her occupied, then!
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