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Rachael McShane & The Cartographers Rachael McShane & The Cartographers
Album: When All Is Still
Label: Topic
Tracks: 11
.Singer and cello, fiddle and viola player Rachael’s first solo album appeared in 2009, while she was still performing with the mighty Bellowhead, and she’s been very busy with other projects since that band’s demise, including taking the star role of Susannah in the revival of The Transports ballad opera. Happily, she’s also managed to find time to assemble a new band, The Cartographers, which is a rather exciting trio featuring guitarist Matthew Ord and melodeonist Julian Sutton; When All Is Still is this lineup’s debut on record, but it’s also billed as Rachael’s followup solo album. The latter tag certainly makes sense in that its adaptations of traditional songs embody and emphasise Rachael’s own personal vision and attitude, for all that the dominant musical vibe is that of sparky collaboration. “All is still” because “the songs capture aspects of human life that happen in the quiet moments when nobody is looking”, but also in the sense that Rachael has considered her stance on the material and has now relaxed confidently into her way of doing things, all with the benefit of her experiences since her impression-forming No Man’s Fool album. She sounds to be firmly in control, and her infectious personality shows through consistently on this new CD.

The overriding feel of this collection is its element of mischief, with the overt sauciness of The Molecatcher and Ploughman Lads and the marital infidelities of Barley & Rye balancing the more sinister brand of mischief (incest, for instance) in the murder balladry of Lady Isabel, Two Sisters and Sheath & Knife, but even these grim stories are invariably laced with wicked humour, a quality that Rachael proves so skilled in bringing out (this trend extends to her cheeky booklet notes too). Her bright-eyed, increasingly assured singing enables her to make the most of her chosen songs too, whether pleading the virtues of the Cropper Lads or chronicling the bribery of a sentient parrot!

As far as musical impact goes, the bond between the trio members is very persuasive. Additionally, these backdrops often expand from a minimal start into something altogether fuller and richer, with a use of drone that brings to mind Mr. Fox (as on Sylvie, a version of the Female Highwayman for which Rachael’s provided a new tune). Indeed, the total soundscape can be quite weighty (but not excessively so), as on the brassy morris-y swagger of Green Broom. This is because Rachael intermittently employs a number of go-to guest musicians including former Bellowhead colleagues (oboist Paul Sartin and three brass players), a measure of electric bass and percussion and Ian Stephenson on double bass and piano (Ian’s expert production is a further indicator of the quality of this release). And in addition to the disc’s songs, there’s a couple of delicious instrumental tracks pairing evocative original tunes by Rachael and Julian.

When All Is Still is a satisfying and accessible disc that brings a quirky freshness and spring to the gait of traditional folk song.

David Kidman