mon 20/09/2021

Album: Katherine Priddy - The Eternal Rocks Beneath | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Katherine Priddy - The Eternal Rocks Beneath

Album: Katherine Priddy - The Eternal Rocks Beneath

It's time to welcome an original and compelling new voice in British folk music

Katherine Priddy: compelling stories within

The folk world is slowly coming out of its long pandemic slumber, with Sidmouth’s month-long festival starting in the midst of Storm Evert’s high-summer arrival, and tours from the likes of fiddler extraordinaire Sam Sweeney, Eliza Carthy, and acclaimed newcomer, singer, songwriter and finger-picking guitarist Katherine Priddy, whose debut album is one of the most striking in British folk for some time.

The folk genre remains in good health, despite crippling lockdowns and the touring impact of Brexit on artists whose incomes tend to rely as much on gigging among our European neighbours as around the UK. Some of Priddy’s perfectly turned, articulate and emotive songs first appeared in 2018, on her Wolf EP, which came garlanded with fulsome praise from one Richard Thompson. She’s since played the stages of Cambridge, Towersey, Shambala and Underneath the Stars, released a Valentine’s single, and supported Thompson himself on a tour of Ireland. After her debut at Cambridge, she won the Christian Raphael Award for developing artists, granting her financial support and advice for the next 12 months.

She’s obviously used that advice and support to its maximum advantage, because The Eternal Rocks Beneath ("rocks" here is a verb) is a striking, and strikingly beautiful set of powerful and vivid songs, performed with an assurance and maturity that is all the more remarkable given that some of them, such as opener “Indigo”, were written when the 25-year-old was still a teenager. It’s an unshadowed childhood pastoral, her fine, clear and resonant voice and adept musical setting steering it into a lush lyricism that reduces the distances between childhood and adulthood so that they are not so wide as to be insurmountable.

Two songs from the Wolf EP are also included here, the title song’s probing lyric addressing the figure of the wolf’s dark allure, at once repellent and compelling. It’s vivid, concise and revealing. You can see why Thompson admired this song so much. "Ring A Roses", with its ominous, drone-like opening, is one of the darker highlights, the deadly old nursery rhyme exhaled in layered vocals, as Priddy expands on the terror of the Black Death to create a taste of lingering folk horror. When it was first recorded, COVID-19 wasn’t even a glint in the microscopic eye of the coming storm.

Elsewhere, with “The Spring Never Came”, emotional leave-takings and the metaphors of the turning seasons coalesce into reflections on separation and heartbreak, studded with images that don’t fade: “Your whispers come creeping, from my dreams they drip down my spine” – while musically it moves from spare fingerpicking to string section to a sort of chanson, fuelled by flares of accordion and driven by brush drums.

"Letters from a Travelling Man", the album’s single, is a brilliant character song, complete with great pop hooks and a lean Americana setting, while at the heart of the record there are imagistic songs about the Greek myth of Icarus, that eternal over-reacher, and Eurydice, each rising from intimate, breathy vocals to big choruses and an epic, big-ballad reach as Priddy reaches, finds and brings out – here and across the album – the compelling stories within.

@CummingTim

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