Devine was inspired to create this work by the wetlands and fens of her home in eastern England. She set out on a pilgrimage around this mysterious and historic region, recording the reminiscences and feeling of local people, and collecting stories and sound samples, whilst building a reputation gigging on the festival circuit, including a debut at Cambridge Folk Festival.
This album was recorded at night in Fotheringhay Church, not far from the final resting place of Mary Queen of Scots in Peterborough, by Devine and a small band. Between them they have produced a work of cool sophistication.
Samples collected by Devine are mixed in with piano, layered strings and percussion to create an ambient groove, not a thousand miles removed from mid-90's trip-hop electronica of Portishead or Ariel era Kate Bush, if not quite matching the power and vulnerability of Bush or Beth Gibbons. The natural acoustic ambience of the historic venue; and synth and beats by Benny Turner and Nathan Wieckowski add to the magic.
Her use of her voice as an instrument quotes the syncopation of John Martyn; whispered, sometimes so softly as to be barely audible, but with unerring pitch and control, her tone and style is all her own.
Track one, Charlston Town, is opened by Abid Mujtaba's bass and Devine's gently picked guitar, before ethereal vocals float in and Jes Kerr's drums drive along the mid paced rocker.
Work You is a slow-paced dance number which builds gradually on simple minor key chord sequence overlaid with found sounds, the track building in grandeur and majesty, without ever quite climaxing.
Lyrically poetic and often abstract, evocative of the big skies and openness of east Anglia, the sound of the words is as important as their delivery. But lyrics are a little too abstract at times, even given that this is art music, and that poetry needs time and investment to understand. The authenticity of the message may be masked by complexity.
There's very little variation of style and pace in the album. On the video interview that accompanies the release, Devine speaks of the power and majesty of a fenland thunderstorm. Some of that sturm and drang might not be amiss here. It would be good to hear the full dynamic range of the Devine voice.
The mood is lightened slightly by Not Telling You, a simple pop ballad. The lyric is of a lost love, authentic and personal, well performed and simply arranged. Fools that Fall, builds around a simple piano waltz (Nathan Wieckowski), solo vocal weaving in and out the arrangement, counterpointed by strings, Felicity Wrenwood on cello and Anthony Nottingham on violin, give the piece a twist of mournful tango.
An assured debut, and a recording of complexity and grace, albeit one that feels as if Devine is holding back. One hopes this album is successful enough for this remarkable artist to be able to continue to explore her vision.
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