Back in November 2015, I reviewed a release by Cumbria-based singer-songwriter Karin, who at that time was performing in a duo with Rosie Clegg. Their EP was one of those "how come I've never come across this artist before?" situations, for even then Karin had already chalked up a 30-year CV that's taken her across many musical genres from jazz, blues and cabaret, and latterly to English and American folk. There were four of Karin's self-penned songs on that EP, but this new release is a full-length showcase that unveils her latest collaborative venture, a duo with well-travelled singer-guitarist-songwriter Karl Robins, who's originally from Leeds but is now based near Berwick Upon Tweed. Karin clearly has a knack for choosing ideal musical partners, for their voices fit together extremely well, while Karl's keen musicianship and seriously accomplished style of playing (guitar, cuatro) complements the mood and subject-matter of her songs.
Generally, Karin's songs are inspired by personal reflections and experiences, the messages to be derived from which are often cleverly couched within stories which have a definitive ring of truth but which are told with a refreshing unsentimentality.. A majority of the songs concern the plight of a woman trapped in a familiar universal or eternal scenario: for instance, a single parent who's forced to go on the streets (Hey Mister); the unplanned journey of a young girl seeking discovery (Nowhere); a young child's memory of watching her mother hard at work (My Mother's Hands); a woman left behind to raise her child after her man goes off to war (Take Me Away); and the inspirational strength of a woman suffering domestic violence (Strong In The Broken Places). The latter is one of just two of Karin's songs revisited from the EP; the other is Anne Naysmith, the poignant tale of a former concert pianist who fell on hard times. Another of the album's most memorable songs is the eerie There's That Woman, while Karin's creative imagination is given full rein on the fantasy The Stones Of Callenish and her condemnation of the treatment of human beings by their peers is stirringly voiced on Rights Of Man.
Strong though Karin's own songs are, though, she and Karl also show considerable dramatic flair and imagination in their renditions of the disc's two traditional items, the title track and Blackwaterside. Throughout the album, the instrumental arrangements are kept simple, while Mike Harding adds mandolin magic to four tracks and Frank Meadley plays bodhrán on two, and Amanda Martin contributes harmony vocals on one item. As an aside perhaps, it's worth pointing out that it may be indicative that although the majority of tracks last upwards of four minutes, the listener doesn't feel the passage of time.
Finally - and very importantly, the album gains possibly its most striking sense of cohesive identity by Karin's powerful singing, her fine diction coupled with a dynamic and assured approach to phrasing; but, I would emphasise, that's not to undersell Karl's equally assured contribution to the duo's collaborative music-making.
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