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Happy Hosting, Happy New Year - Rob Ellen
The Black Feathers could well be Britain’s answer to Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings - or possibly to The Indigo Girls, echoes of whom come strongly through at times. This hugely impressive five song debut sees them stepping confidently in their own direction with an evocative melding of British and American folk sounds. As a duo, The Black Feathers are vocalist Sian Chandler and guitarist/vocalist Ray Hughes. For this recording they have recruited some extra players to fill out the sound: mandolin, resonator guitar, percussion and electric guitar are all in there, though the biggest impact comes from the string players who add warm and reverberating tones to these poetic songs.
The two opening songs here demonstrate the impressive range, power and musical ambition of these guys. Starting off with the title track, we are beguiled with close harmonies as warm and snug as settling by a log fire on an autumn’s day. Towards the end of the song there are hints of what we get next; the emotional intensity is racked up as the yearning gets expressed in notes that reach ever higher. This is as nothing, though, compared to the febrile intensity of 10,000 Times; the acoustic guitar punches out the chords, the fiddle sounds like an entire nervous system on edge and Sian and Ray both take the part of the wounded lover. They take lines separately, then together as they express the pain of a love in danger of being lost. Not easy stuff to hear, but an impressively overwhelming performance. The calm seas of Open Book, which follows, come as soothing balm. There’s a slightly harsh edge to their sound when the intensity reaches a high peak that stands in strong contrast to the sweet warmth of the lower, gentler moments.
There has recently been a strong growth in new ways of following old roots and The Black Feathers sound to me like they’ve found a productive new direction to follow, as interesting and rewarding to the listener as anything else out there. The writing on Open Book is particularly beautiful to my ears but every song here is impressive in its way, full not only of beauty but also of serious intent. They’ve been working together for quite a while so I’m hoping there’s plenty of half-prepared material for a full album to be possible in the near future. I’ll be watching out for it, that’s for sure.
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