The contemporary folk duo Twelfth Day is made up of Catriona Price from Orkney (fiddle and vocals) and Peebles-born Esther Swift (harp and vocals). Since forming in 2006, while Esther and Catriona were still studying music together at Manchester's Royal Northern College of Music, Twelfth Day's instrumental virtuoslty, beguiling vocal harmonies and bold arrangements have earned them a reputation as one of the most innovative young bands around. Twelfth Day's previous two albums and two EPs were very well-received by fans and critics alike and so the third album, "Cracks In The Room", has been eagerly anticipated. Under the watchful eye of celebrated singer-songwriter Chris Wood in the role of producer, Twelfth Day have stretched and challenged themselves in the making of this album. The previous folk and classical influences are still in evidence but the music and song structures this time around nod in a number of different musical directions, resulting in a very fresh, original and exhilarating new sound.
On the album's opening track, the short instrumental "False Electric", sparkling flourishes of harp usher in an elegant fiddle refrain, with the overall effect as calming as waves lapping gently on the shore. "Another Time" has all the classic Twelfth Day hallmarks of glorious harp and fiddle interplay and entrancing vocal harmonies, ending deliciously with some sinuous fiddle underpinned by rippling harp. The rhythmic, quirky and highly original "Cracks" is the first indicator of the duo's more expansive new direction, as gypsy fiddle and percussive harp pave the way for Esther Swift and Catriona Price to take turns in delivering playful and jazzy vocals which carry an edge of menace and occasional hints of mild hysteria. There are also some swinging fiddle breaks which recall Stephane Grappelli in his pomp. This is a hugely entertaining track and it's little wonder that it ends with audible bursts of laughter from the girls…
With its exotic percussion, rhythmic harp and jazzy vocals, "Stop Talking About It" has a timeless bossa nova feel and features more impressive fiddle solos. Featuring rhythmically plucked fiddle and harp and swooping and soaring vocal harmonies, "Olive Branch" veers in the direction of African desert blues. More African influence is evident in "Gold And Swilling", which also manages to evoke bluegrass and American mountain music. The air of quiet menace returns in "Great Green", which is notable for a euphoric chorus reminiscent of "Hounds Of Love"-era Kate Bush. In "Keep Searching", Esther Swift's elegant and heart-warming vocals segue into rich vocal harmonies (with Chris Wood joining in), before a delicate and haunting fiddle melody brings the track to a close.
"To Wait To Find" is another heady brew, featuring heavily percussive, trippy and bluesy fiddle licks, stirring harp flourishes and vocals as fresh as a sea-breeze. The album's other instrumental, "Another Phase In Time", has a cinematic quality, as the ambient ebb and flow of harp and shimmering fiddle give way to another breathtakingly beautiful classical melody. The album closes with "Blackford Hill", an affectionate ode to one of Edinburgh's well-loved landmarks, where poignant and reflective vocals and harp precede a graceful fiddle outro.
With this third full-length album, Twelfth Day have carved their niche in the contemporary folk scene in the UK, drawing on a wide range of influences and experiences to create a sound that is uniquely their own. The sheer exuberance and obvious enjoyment in their playing and singing is infectious and the album rewards repeated listening, offering up new delights each time. There are unlikely to be many better albums produced in Scotland this year.
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