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The Great Sea ChoirThe Great Sea Choir
Album: Within The Sound
Label: Bessie
Tracks: 6

A fine debut EP from the contemporary folk choir based in Bristol. Arranged and directed by Heg Brignall (Heg & the Wolf Chorus), the carefully curated selection of songs takes us on a fascinating journey from trad folk to alt-folk to indie-pop.

The EP kicks off with Army of Tears by Irish alt-folk enigma Cathy Davy. The women lead the chorus in, with melody and high counter melody, and a pizzicato track, while the male voices take a bassline. Brignall splits her singers into three, four and even five sections, the arrangement tight and percussive.

The traditional Golden Vanity follows, men and women alternating lead, bouncing melodies and harmonies off each other. A boisterous chorus leads to a change of pace and a rousing finale.

The choir tackles Kate Bush next. This Woman's Work, is tender and vulnerable, deeply melancholic, sung with passion and love by members of a community with more than a passing knowledge of life's hard choices.

Torment by Icelandic artist Asgeir, follows. Muscular and driving, it rivals the indie-rock of the original in urgency. Green and Gold from Kate in the Kettle continues the up-tempo feel, with handclaps and foot stomps, as the choir rocks out, teasing and playful, full of life and humour.

On the Frame closes the album, a slice of contemporary Americana from Beta Radio. An overture, full of orchestral cadences, leads into female voices, gentle and questioning, and a wistful chorus of endings and goodbyes.

In 100 years
When you're just a haze on the water
And then when it clears
It's another's turn to discover
But you know
You'll have to let go

What sets this recording apart, is the meaning that the singers bring to the songs, each one marking tragedy or triumph in real lives, hurling a prayer of hope and defiance at the gods. These songs means something to them, and, through them, to us.

Brignall's artfully composed arrangements, have drawn out both that meaning, and the spirit that exists between the 42 non-auditioned choristers, hailing from the independent city state of Bristol, just to the west of Britain. This a team performing well above it's pay grade.

A shout of joy, and a restorative for those with a jaded sense of humanity. Put them on your list of bands to see for 2019.

Laura Thomas