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Elspeth Anne sits in her kitchen, gazing into the camera

Elspeth Anne, Mercy Me – a review

Weaving timeless themes with atmospheric originals, Elspeth Anne's latest album finds its own corner of folk. Review by Alex Hurr.

Release Date
25 November 2022
Elspeth Anne, Mercy Me
Mercy Me boasts a unique and absorbing atmosphere, notable for its powerful vocals. Elspeth Anne has released a startling collection of songs that reach deep.

What is it about folk music that transcends time and space in a way that no other genre can quite do? Why is it that it manages to always return to us, often at times when we need it the most? If you were to ask me, I’d say “because the songs are about something, and are sung in such a way, that everyone can latch onto and connect with”. They are so accessible to so many walks of life, we can’t help being drawn in time and time again. Elspeth Anne has woven this into her latest album, Mercy Me

The album hints at the sense of having been here before while exploring new ground all at the same time. Elspeth Anne wraps ideas and feelings we can all relate to in vibrant textures that stir up occasional unease. Lankum comes to mind quickly when listening, not just because of the more ‘traditional’ instrumentation but because of the powerful lamenting vocals that follow a similar vein to that of Radie Peat. Specifically, the long, deeply drawn melodies over tenacious pedal notes played through reed instruments. 

Elspeth Anne plays two traditional songs on this album, ‘When I Was A Young Girl’ – from the ‘Unfortunate Rake‘ family [Roud 2] – and ‘Peggy Gordon’ [Roud 2280], both of which fit in perfectly with the overall sentiment of the album and lend the aforementioned feeling of familiarity, especially in the case of ‘When I Was A Young Girl’, which has been sung by everyone from Nina Simone to Norma Waterson. Here, she leans heavily on the deep reeded timbres of the shruti box to create an extremely haunting rendition. With heaps of reverb, you become transfixed by the horror of it all, unable to look away. ‘Peggy Gordon’ follows a similar trembling feeling but leaves us on a slightly jollier note. Her vocals are met with the doubling of a male vocal and the accordion is met with atmospheric electronic bleeps and bloops. Being the final track on the album, the listener is left with a feeling of optimism after what has been, at times, quite a melancholic journey. 

The entire album lives in a beautifully enchanting sonic world, mostly created with slow-moving acoustic instruments awash with bellowing reverb. Crafted diligently by the multi-instrumentalist and music producer Alfie Gidley at his studio Blue Satsuma Records in Cornwall, Elspeth Anne also enlisted the help of Joseph Gidley to add the ethereal ‘found sound’ elements that lurk in the more mysterious crevices of this album. We start with a more conventionally rock-styled song, ‘Belt’, which features pushed guitars and a faster-paced rhythm during the chorus. However, the bridge shows off a lovely multi-layered choir made of the singer’s voice, which brings us down a pace. A slower cadence then presents itself for the remainder of the album, bringing us very delicately into her world.

The following track is called ‘Mercy Me’, a single from the album that immediately shows off the powerful and alluring effects of Elspeth Anne’s vocals. Double-tracked almost entirely throughout and accompanied with a shruti box, she hints at feelings of insecurity and discomfort in the lyrical content. Whether the intention or not, the slight dissonance and unusual pitching dials up that sense of foreboding. As a listener, the song provokes plenty of internal conflict – it’s certainly not an easy listen, but it’s what makes the song so fascinating.

The other stand-out track for this reviewer was ‘Wet Peace’. This time leading with the guitar, Elspeth Anne draws influence from conventional American folk music. However, she makes it her own with powerful lines such as, “I do not want to take my clothes off in front of such a threatening man”, sharpening the notion that folk music, in the right hands, is nothing if not relevant.

Mercy Me boasts a unique and absorbing atmosphere, notable for its powerful vocals. Elspeth Anne has released a startling collection of songs that reach deep.

Mercy Me by Elspeth Anne is released on November 25th. For more information, and to order a copy, head to her Bandcamp page.