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Tamsin Elliott plays accordion during sessions for her FREY album

Tamsin Elliott, FREY – a review

Tamsin Elliott's debut album, FREY, is, in a word, sublime. Few albums this year have taken us on such a magical journey.

The cover art for Tamsin Elliott's FREY features a beautiful painting by the artist herself.
Release Date
30 June 2022
Tamsin Elliott, FREY
One of the most accomplished debut albums we've heard in a long time, FREY is not strictly a collection of traditional music, but the influence of tradition pulses through every track. We think Tradfolk readers are going to love it.

It has been a good year so far for tradfolk (or trad-inspired folk) instrumental collections. Peter Knight & John Spiers, Both in a Tune, and Sam Sweeney, Solo, both spring to mind, having set the bar pretty high early on. With half of 2022 already gone, Tamsin Elliot arrives with FREY – a debut album, no less – and let’s get this straight right from the get-go: it’s a real challenger.

Only last week, we were privileged enough, here on Tradfolk, to have the debut screening of the first single, ‘Old Wax Jacket // A Coat of Sawdust’. If you’ve not been whirling around the kitchen to that (or, at the very least, thumping your foot through the floor from a largely sedentary position), then you’re probably doing life wrong. If, on the other hand, that’s precisely what you’ve been up to, then things are about to get interesting.

You see, that initial single was deceptive. FREY is not about foot-stomping and whirlygigs – not in any straightforward sense, anyway. The aforementioned single and the spiralling, joyful sky dance that is ‘Emerging Full Squirrel’ are about as bouncy as it gets. But the album has a beguiling energy all of its own, and rewards the dedicated, repeated listener much more than they might expect. It isn’t traditional music, but it’s so clearly infused by tradition, we loved it from the off, and have properly fallen for it in the days since.

Sometimes, listening to FREY feels like eavesdropping on a conversation whispered across borders.

It feels a shame to try and put FREY into any genre boxes, but so as to give you a sense of what you might find, there’s the distinctive sound of traditional English folk, hints of Irish folk, glorious great dollops of Middle Eastern-infused gorgeousness, moments that are as experimental as the Knight and Spiers album mentioned above, hints of Roussillon music, harp lilts… If all that sounds like too much of a smorgasbord, fear not. The tunes are in constant conversation with each other. Sometimes, listening to FREY feels like eavesdropping on a conversation whispered across borders.

A word on the musicianship, because it so richly deserves it. Rowan Rheingans and Rowan Elliott bring striking fiddle and viola respectively, while Sid Goldsmith offers steady support on cittern where required. Soufian Saihi guests on the oud, and sparse, tasteful percussion comes courtesy of Ricardo de Noronha. It’s a wonderful and sympathetic group of players, but there’s no doubt who the star is. Tamsin Elliott proves herself to be an extraordinary multi-instrumentalist, able to take you on night flights with her harp (‘I Dreamed I Was an Eagle’), entrance you with her whistle (‘Light as Bone’), or flip you between contemplation and kitchen-whirling in a split second with her accordion (‘Uma’s Song’, going into ‘Old Wax Jacket // A Coat of Sawdust’). At her best, she can take your breath away. For our money, this is best demonstrated on the bewitching ‘Cold Moon’. After several years of staying at home, this tune makes you want to pack your rucksack and board the first ship to the Levant.

The production is also spot on. In the experimental moments, ‘Vignette I’ and ‘Vignette II’, you could (and, quite possibly, do) hear a pin drop. They’ve clearly spent time in a great room, but it’s the restraint that’s most admirable. Nothing feels hurried, everything is given space. For want of a less cliched phrase, FREY’s production demonstrates what it means to allow music to breathe. The audiophiles amongst you are going to love it.

FREY may be her debut album (how is that possible? How does someone make something this accomplished straight off the bat?) but, if you’re asking us, it’s already one of the best albums so far this year. Hands down. No question. Tamsin Elliott just set the bar even higher.

Pre-order FREY from Tamsin Elliot’s Bandcamp page. It is released on June 30th. For more info on the artist herself, head to tamsinelliott.co.uk.