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Siobhan Miller - Strata (Songprint Records)
From the first note this is a considered album, that smoulders with class and sophistication. Siobhan Miller's voice is set against sympathetic backing from a stellar cast from folk's whose who. Kris Drever, Aidan O'Rourke from Lau, Ian Carr and Phil Cunningham, along with many others, provide always interesting support. The band, however adroit, are foremost a foil to a jewel set in a ring, as Miller is very much the star here, with her pure voice consistently shining through on tracks like The Sun Shines High. Siobhan talks about her desire to pay tribute to established performers like Sheila Stewart, Dick Gaughan and Pod Paterson. Two of the strong performances on the album are What You Do With What You've Got and Pound A Week Rise, songs recorded and often played live by Gaughan. Siobhan's delivery on What You Do With What You've Go’ steers well clear of Gaughan's vitriol, recalling more closely Si Kahn's warm upbeat original. But Miller's pure and beautiful voice finds the hope and joy in the song and with an upbeat chorus, it really crackles. Stand out tracks include Bob Dylan's One Too Many Mornings, performed here with a slow considered tempo, a great fiddle part and Admiral Fallow front man Louis Abbot's second vocal perfectly complimenting Miller's. The band is restrained here, stepping up between the verses with the voices shining through on the chorus. Ed Pickford's Pound A Week Rise drives along, the guitar and bass replicating a clapping stomping foot folk club rythmn. In this time of 'pie in the sky' politics the lyrics and Siobhan Miller's delivery seem very poignant.
The arrangements on Unquiet Grave and Thanksgiving Eve demonstrate the strength and closeness of the players. The album was recorded with the band putting down whole takes together, natural atmosphere no click tracks and that shines through. Unquiet Grave is acid folk, stripped back to arresting vocal and guitar. Thanksgiving Eve is a jazzy shuffling rhythm where the drums and bass blend with layered vocals and the awesome fiddle of Lau's Aidan O'Rourke. It all blends together perfectly. The Month Of January is a well -represented traditional song, Frankie Anderson performed it on her 1976 Topic album, June Tabor recorded a stark version on ABYSSINIANS in 1983. Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker's version on FIRE AND FORTUNE in 2012 was similarly chilling and gothic. Siobhan Millers' singing of the cautionary tale, despite the bleak lyric is warmer as she turns each syllable into beautiful music, before Tom Gibbs' insistent harmonium lifts the mood completely. False False is another chilling tale of life's betrayals, it is also another album highlight. Miller's voice just soars, the violin wrings at your emotions and it is all accented by Louis Abbot's inventive drum part. Bonny Light Horseman is another track where Miller's voice just pours out in i all its glory over some tasteful country tinged Bouzouki and Guitar picking. The Ramblin' Rover closes the album, a storming number, it's an 'us against the world' song. One of the few mentions of colitis within the folk tradition and its recounting of the widespread bollockitis disease should ensure the album gets one of those parental advisory stickers. It all guarantees you end this excellent album with a smile on your face and reaching for the repeat. Highly recommended