Rachel Taylor-BealesRachel Taylor-Beales
Album: Stone's Throw - Lament of the Selkie
Label: Hushland
Tracks: 12

Having completed her colour-themed trilogy, Rachel now turns to a folklore concept album themed around by the Orkneys' seal-folk that has also inspired John Sayles' film 'The Secret of Roan Inish' and, more recently, the Oscar nominated animation 'The Secret Sea'.

Rachel and husband Bill handle the bulk of the instrumentation, variously taking on guitar, ukulele, piano, organ and bass, with assorted contributions from cellist Rosy Robinson, violinist Lucy Rivers, for Damned bassist Paul Gray and Dylan Fowler on guitars with Rachel's brother Shane on percussion

Given the mythic elements, as you'd imagine the album has an ethereal quality to it, the legend updated to tell the story of a Selkie who leaves the sea to try and forge a life with her human lover, only to find the struggle impossible, eventually prompting her return to the waters, leaving him behind, grief-struck. So, cheery stuff then.

The tale, told predominantly in the first perspective of the tragic heroine, opens to Rivers' violin with narrative scene setter 'Seaside', the vocals almost whispered, early bliss embodied in the dreamy lazing ambience of 'Somersaults' and 'Summer Again' with its tolling bells, rumbling percussion and echoes of early Clannad.

The piano led fragility, strings and soaring vocals of 'And May It Be' sets the narrative on its tragic spiral, leading to the self-explanatory circling melody of 'Restless' with its claustrophobic atmosphere enhanced by scraping violin and moody keys before the melancholic acoustic, cello-backed title track arrives as, vocals multi-tracked, she sings of the beach she cannot call home.

This, in turn, gives way to Selkie's Song with Fowler on kantele and Angharad Evens providing harmonies, it's stranger in a strange land theme prompting the line "the skin won't fit like it used to, these bones won't hold it so well." With the inevitable shaping up, 'In The Cold' has a suitably chill air, the mournful violin underscoring the emotional brittleness of her alienation. What appears to be a moment of hope arrives with the hymnal, churchy organ and piano backed 'Fall Into You', until it becomes clear the you is not her lover's arms but the sea from when she came ("the swelling ecstasy of every sailor who made you their lover"), the vocals soaring across the scales as Rachel harmonises with herself and Rivers' violin wraps itself around her longing to return to her natural home.

Featuring what sounds like an uncredited harp, but may be a distorted ukulele, with 'Until The Snow' the aftermath takes hold with its madness-tinged litany of questions, shifting the perspective to the abandoned lover "seeing signs and symbols here of older winters walking…with nothing left just fragment shards of postcards lost and found."

Returning to the ethereal breathiness of the albums opening, the nervy six minute 'Turning The Da'y finds him in despair and broken ("this rizla's ash and pay cheque spent, dishwater coffee and unmade bed"), wishing he could bend space and time to see her face once more, before it ends with the haunting, salt-tanged violin instrumental epilogue 'Ghost Of A Reel' fading away into the distance.

It's a stunningly ambitious, superbly crafted and intoxicating affair that deserves to cast its siren spell on all who hear it.

Mike Davies