'Tide Take Him' is the debut EP from alternative folk duo Blanche Ellis and Maya McCourt who together make up 'Various Guises'.
They have been working as a duo and on other projects for some time, not least with Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band, who's last release 'Come With Me' I was fortunate enough to review. So, the early signs are very promising.
For this release, Blanche is credited with guitar and voice, Maya, cello and voice. Tom Hyatt adds piano on tracks two and what they call 'Satan's Kitchen' on track five, while Dana Immanuel partly returns the musical compliment to the duo with her vocals on tracks one and five. Tom Hyatt, a singer and songwriter in his own right, also produced the EP and Steve Watson mastered.
With their vocals to the fore at all times, folk is perhaps a starting point in defining 'Various Guises' but stylistically their sound goes way beyond this weaving in Americana and hints of blues towards "something that is not-quite-old, not-quite-new". Accordingly, the songs presented here that are a mixture of originals, reworkings and traditional numbers.
'Tide Take Him' is a stunning acapella opener, their voices weaving an and out, conjuring up images of The Sirens sweet but deadly crooning in 'Oh Brother, Where Art Though'. The song itself is equally restless, moving between the traditional 'Drunken Sailor' and their original work with a profound, 'shifting field' effect.
'Green' comes in on a solo voice before the guitar and other vocal enters to support the beautiful cello that dominates the songs soundscape, with its belly rumbling resonance. Subtle piano helps build things further until it all rounds up on another acapella outro.
'Willow' conjures up musical echoes of Nick Drake and features a particularly strong lead vocal whilst 'The Sound & The Fury' is playfully strident with its fine harmonies and time changes, for all the world sounding like it is being sung to a crackling log fire accompaniment!
The traditional song 'Bedlam Boys' brings things to a close and rattles through in spiky fashion, lead vocals and harmonies traded throughout over a spookily percussive backdrop, which I imagine is the aforementioned 'Satan's Kitchen' from Tom Hyatt. This is a great finale, but all done and dusted in a criminally short one minute fifty seconds.
I guess most EP's are an introduction to something new, or an attempt to maintain the interest of an existing fan base. 'Various Guises' probably straddle both aspirations by already being known to many as individuals through working with others, but will be new to most as a duo. Wherever they fit, this is an impressive record that showcases fine original songs weaving in and out of traditional sounds, glorious voices and playing, all of which is recorded with crystal clarity and immediacy.
As an EP, it works perfectly and whets the appetite for more, so roll on the full album but in the meantime, catch these songs live if you get the chance.
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