By the time I get to this third track on the album, I feel like a small boy in a sweet shop, where every choice is beyond my imaginings. I was musically introduced to my third artist by Éamonn, and when I heard Daisy, I was totally smitten. It was love at first listen and what I’m missing is that I still haven’t heard her live or met her yet.
It was the words, the sound, the passion and understanding, and the little touches of Scottish accent, that wowed me: all seeming easily appropriate and truly fascinating. I thought: this is the one to salute my Malawi women (little did I know). Karine Polwart is unique, a one off, who has a way with words and a voice that can talk the talk!
I asked Éamonn if we could get the loan of a song from her, but he said no, she will write one, and so she did, a most amazing tribute to not only my Malawi women, but also to Zoë, the late and only daughter of Richard and Sue Cansdale, to whom the Charity Wells for Zoë is dedicated.
This is a kind of, bespoke anthem, with all the emotion and feeling of our approach to development in remotest Northern Malawi, where some of the most fascinating women in the world live.
The track is called Well for Zoë and Tim O’Brien (again), does his own super stuff, AND, I feel that when you hear the inimitable Stuart Duncan on fiddle, weaving so sensitively through the fabric, you will feel the emotion too.
About Karine Polwart
THE OFFICIAL LINE ON HER LATEST ALBUM, This Earthly Spell
“soul cleansing” (Q January 2008)
“takes the heart to places few singers even know exist” (WORD January 2008)
“righteous and beautiful” (MOJO, April 06)
“grippingly understated storytelling” (THE TIMES, June 06)
“beautifully formed tunes and observations that are not afraid of big questions and soft emotions” (IRISH TIMES, May 06)
“Polwart’s skill is to make these deeply personal tales utterly universal” (TIME OUT, April 06)
The bittersweet, cascading harmonies of “The Good Years” sets the tone for Karine Polwart’s new album This Earthly Spell (Hegri04). And it’s been a good year indeed for The Scottish Borders based singer, who gave birth to her first child in 2007, and still managed to record enough material for not one but two new albums on her own label imprint Hegri Music.
Following the fireside intimacy of Scottish traditional collection Fairest Floo’er (Hegri03, Dec 2007), This Earthly Spell reinforces Polwart’s reputation as a humane and perceptive songwriter who draws on indie and roots influences as much as folk traditions.
The chiming opening track, a gorgeous vocal setting of a lyric by eminent Scots poet Edwin Morgan, gives way to the steely, swampy “Sorry”, whilst the delightful jazz inflected whimsy of “The News” contrasts the anti-nuclear political bite of “Better Things” and the incisive “Painted It White”. Unsurprisingly, for a new mum, three songs deal with motherhood. The poignant understatement of “Firethief”, which Polwart wrote originally for HIV/AIDS documentary “The Enemy That Lives Within”, one of BBC Radio 2’s Radio Ballads, unravels a mother’s loss; whilst she wrote the tender and delicate “Rivers Run” for her own son. But it’s the eerie and atmospheric parable “Tongue That Cannot Lie” that, most of all, betrays Polwart’s background as a former philosophy teacher, and her ongoing fascination with moral ambivalence. Inspired by the supernatural legend surrounding thirteenth century Scottish Borders poet and prophet Thomas The Rhymer, it also distinguishes her as an ambitious and captivating storyteller.
Most of the album was recorded just a few miles away from her Borders home at the beautiful Heriot-Toun visual arts studio which she and her live band, with producer Calum Malcolm, transformed into a unique and intimate recording environment. But despite the rural influences, there’s nothing escapist or sentimental about this collection of songs.
It’s three years since Polwart scooped a trio of BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, including “Best Album” for her debut Faultlines and “Best Original Song”, an accolade she won for a second time in 2007. In the meantime, she’s released two further solo albums, Scribbled in Chalk and Fairest Floo’er, and collaborated with the likes of Roddy Woomble and cult Glasgow indie outfit Future Pilot AKA. And she shows no sign of slowing down:
“More and more I feel like an album captures just a wee slice of time. I’m already working on new ideas and will be making new songs available through my website on a monthly basis this year for people who’re interested. I think it’s more and more important now for songwriters like me to offer something more than just a static piece of work.”
Off the road, Karine is likely to be found tramping the hills near the home in Southern Scotland, which she shares with bandmate, producer and partner Mattie Foulds, singing to herself and her wee son Arlo and looking for herons.