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Martha Tilston Martha Tilston
Album: Nomad
Label: Squiggly
Tracks: 10

Looking to wind down after recording sessions for Tilston's last album, the highly traditional-inclined 'The Sea', apparently she and the musicians would spend the evenings experimenting with new material she was writing. Originally just an experimental diversion, playing and recording as it happened, it gradually took on a life of its own, eventually being refined and overdubbed with new material added to the pot.

However, while not trad folk, it's no huge a departure from her previous albums, albeit with perhaps touches of old school country and rock couched in more atmospheric settings, suggesting more the twilight woods than the afternoon meadows, while the songs themselves address familiar themes about humanity and our relationship with the natural world. The album title's extended first track variation as the infectious, smokily sung, rippling acoustic 'Nomad Blood', (Tim Cotterell on mandolin), clearly reflects the life of a travelling musician, but also what Joni Mitchell termed the urge for going that many people feel.

That same lure of the road informs a later number, the dreamy 'Climbing Gates' with its slide bouzouki midsection and lines about motorway miles, breaking down on the way back from a gig and wondering whether cashing it all in for a straight job might be a better choice.

Equally delicate, with Matt Kelly's string arrangement fluttering round her vocals, 'Green Moon' gradually swells on vibrato violin musically reflecting its theme of hesitancy and defiance in committing to new relationships after having been burned. Musically, it gets more complex with 'Little Arrow', Matt Tweed brining in bouzouki and 12 string guitar on a number about endurance and following your path, which, written in memory of stepmother Maggie Boyle, engages jazz and blues colours as well as a rolling progressive folk rock groove with its throbbing bass and punchy drums.

'Childhood' recollections percolate the poppy urgent rhythms of Stories, memories of staring out over Bristol from the roof of their Clifton house or the wider landscape from a rock in Penzance serving as a metaphor for seeing the bigger picture of life around us as she sings about the "need to feel alive again."

With its banjo, slide and Appalachian dulcimer, 'Ribbons For John' offers the clearest country music influences although its be careful what you wish for story song about a woman wanting someone to spark up her life only to have it battered and broken by the stranger to whom she tips her hat. Equally musically sparse , with Tilston providing finger pops, 'Taxi Lights' is an old song dating back to her days in Brighton and co-penned with guitarist Luke Parker, a bluesy acoustic number that's essentially about having more dignity than driving around the relationship taxi rank waiting for someone to flag it down.

Another number about having confidence in yourself and asking for what you deserve, featuring backwards guitar and violin, the quiet/loud 'Fish Tank' is the most experimental number, the first song written for the project and essentially improvised as it was recorded with scratchy guitar and percussion suddenly erupting to violin swirls and more muscular passages.

Written in collaboration with Tweed and Nick Marshall, 'Scribbled Fever' is another improvised number, a musically brooding but lyrically playful trad folk cum moss hung swamp country tale of a heartbroken girl awoken from wish fulfilment dreams of her lover wanting her back by her dad and a cuppa. Which just leaves 'Blue Pearl', stripped down to just Tweed and Tilston's guitars for a lament about the state of the world and a hope that humanity might yet live up to its potential.

Over the course of the seven albums she made since her 2003 solo debut, Tilston's slowly but surely established herself as one of the finest voices and writers in the country's contemporary folk scene; this her most assured work yet.

Mike Davies