Well, this was a surprise. Here we are, patiently waiting for Angeline Morrison’s The Sorrow Songs, and along comes a very welcome selection of hors d’oeuvres.
The Brown Girl and Other Folk Songs is a stripped-down collection of traditional songs that we imagine will contrast somewhat with the forthcoming Eliza Carthy production of The Sorrow Songs. This is Morrison presented as you might see her in a folk club: often unaccompanied, occasionally backing herself on autoharp, shruti box, or (in the case of ‘The Cruel Mother’) medieval-sounding recorders. Produced by the artist herself, with additional performances and mixing by Nick Duffy, it is a homespun affair that fits comfortably alongside the psych-folk aspects of her considerable back-catalogue.
The main attraction here is the singer’s voice. Morrison has recorded many genres over the years, and she brings this to bear on standout tracks like ‘When I Was a Young Girl’ [Roud 2]. It is dark and intimate; listen to it on earphones and it’s almost conspiratory, as though she has her mouth to your ear, whispering a shocking secret. There are traces of blues and jazz in the way the notes slide into each other. In short, it’s a hypnotic performance that smacks of experience.
You get a similar effect on the opening track, ‘The Green Valley’ [Roud 2125] – unaccompanied traditional folk song at its best. Less intimate, it is no less powerful, demonstrating a mastery of ornamentation and wonderful, idiosyncratic diction. You hang on each word throughout, pleased that the album is devoid of reverb or other effects so that the song arrives pure and true.
The highlight is a reading of ‘The Brown Girl’ [Roud 180], which Morrison sings over an exquisite, sparse guitar arrangement performed by Nick Duffy. As she notes during live performances, there are obvious reasons why this song means so much to her, and her connection to the song shines through in this recording. It’s also a great indication of the depth of her repertoire; several of the songs on The Brown Girl and Other Folk Songs seem to have been overlooked by other singers, and you’re left wondering – on the strength of the performances here – why that might be.
While this album is not Angeline Morrison’s masterpiece (we suspect that’s just around the corner), it’s a fine introduction to a name that is increasingly on people’s lips, and a singer that fully deserves the attention she’s getting.
For more information, head to the Angeline Morrison Facebook page. The Brown Girl and Other Folk Songs is out for general release on May 1st, with a small number of CDs available from the artist’s Bandcamp page.