Review from fRoots Magazine
Housed in a beautiful cross-stitched sleeve that’s a work of art in itself, comes young Stephanie’s debut recording – a 22 minute EP presenting her compelling and wholly uncompromising renditions of four traditional ballads etched within a stark aural tapestry. Reading the liner notes, it would appear the genesis for this release lies in an aborted third album by Glasgow-based free-folk collective Scatter; and I hear a distinct audible kinship with Sedayne, or Alasdair Roberts’ doomy rediscovery of traditional death ballads, here in the primal modal evocations of Stephanie’s vocalising
Bravely, she chooses to sing the first of the ballads (In The Month Of January) unaccompanied; for all that it’s inspired by the singing of Sarah Makem, Stephanie’s is a measured reading, with an impressive sense of pacing that signifies an unusually deep feeling for the text. The bouzouki-and-cello-accompanied version of Willy O’Winsbury which follows owes much to the classic Anne Briggs recording with Johnny Moynihan. Stephanie’s mesmeric take on Andrew Lambie (though clearly to some extent modelled on the Jane Turiff recording) is the weirdest of the four, its primeval, eerie atmosphere generated by a spectral harmonium drone and what’s described as “a layer of oscillating horizontal fuzz produced by blowing a clarinet through the body of an amplified bouzouki”, with the ghostly undulation of the vocal line carrying the lament aloft through the ether above. Finally MacCrimmond’s Lament receives an elemental, fearless yet sensitive reading with an ominous, yet at times almost subliminal keening cello backdrop.
The entire EP reeks of the alchemy of discovery of a primitive cultural artefact, and there a few moments of distortion in the determinedly lo-fi recording. The name of the record label, some might feel, also hints ironically at the (at times) slightly piercing quality in Stephanie’s singing, which might make it a bit of an acquired taste. Otherwise, the only real drawback with this release is that (perversely and frustratingly) it’s thus far only available in ‘trendy’ 10″ vinyl format.
(web editor’s note: this ep and the rest of the Singing Knives catalogue are available as digital download via www.diogenesmusic.com)