Talking Elephant 2023


Debuting with song cycle whose title means “shelter” and whose music enshrouds one’s soul in fragile warmth, English folk-shifting chanteuse finds her way to a welcoming home.

Once in a while, artists come forth that, being slightly past the bloom of their youth, are able to marry earthly experience to a celestial melody and establish an eternal presence in the audience’s psyche. It’s not Leonard Cohen the previous sentence is about; it’s Ruth Angell, a Birmingham-based performer that bade her time backing more famous colleagues only to patiently prepare this collection of precious pieces. “Hlywing” can seem entrancing and endearing, but it’s also immensely deep in terms of feminine, wifely and motherly, feelings which each cut on display exudes.

With gorgeous quietude swelling out of Angell’s balladry, there’s no plain romanticism to the imagery her tuneful numbers invoke, because serenity seeping through the songstress’ velveteen voice and violin is deceptive: it’s all too often compromised by the kitchen-sink detail to leave the listener lulled and undisturbed by the real-world affairs. While firmly rooted in folklore – the link strengthened via the English musician’s working with Ashley Hutchings – she doesn’t rely on strictly acoustic tones to reveal vulnerabilities typical for many a minstrel, preferring instead to weave her honeyed lines amidst electric waves. Such an approach should make the pining in the likes of opener “Castle On The Hill” – where the movements of string quartet elevate the sometimes wordless vocals to heavenly heights and the wings and flight references provide a phonetic allusion to the album’s title – so much more impressive, Ruth’s refusal to take comfort for granted propelling this platter towards catharsis.

That’s why for every family-related instant of bliss which the increasingly upbeat “The Boathouse” and the unplugged “Little Bird” set against stormy weather, Angell’s album will offer a spiritually consoled heartbreak – be it the tragedy of a Syrian refugee in the piano-rippled “Little Boy Blue” or the sad fate of Irish women in Joni Mitchell’s “Magdalene Laundries” that Ruth covers with a blood-boiling compassion. She may turn to a borrowed poetry to wrap Thomas Carnduff’s stanzas in a robust gust of sympathetic ensemble on “Shipyard Fairy” and Christina Rossetti’s verses in sultry flutter of the bows and ivories on “No Roses” yet the warm sentiment of “Treasure” is all this artiste’s own, even though Tony Kelsey’s guitar flurries enhance her strum. And then there’s an astonishingly full-on folk rock of “Three Stags'” that has melded legends of yore to the lingo of today to shed a different light on the lady’s delivery – assured, intense and utterly captivating – and throw a bridge to a lush finale that is “In The Vale Of Contemplation”: an aural equivalent of a fatigued, if vibrant, evening, when all the day’s chores are done and a woman’s eyes can devour the wondrous sunset.

A miracle of an album, “Hlywing” is simply sublime.


March 13, 2023

Category(s): Reviews
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