There is much to say about Lorraine McCauley as a songwriter and as a performer, but the thing that’s going to catch attention on this debut album is the highly unusual settings her songs are given. Lorraine’s band, The Borderlands, comprise Jonathan Duggan on accordion, Nick Jenkins on fiddle/viola/mandolin and Billy Hamilton on cello. With Lorraine on vocals and acoustic guitar, the four of them play more like a classical music quartet than a folk band, each instrumental voice strong and individual; most of these songs seem to develop into a dialogue between the instruments, like four actors on a stage, each expressing their own view of a particular situation. Sometimes percussion is brought in as yet another voice and I don’t think there’s a single track where the band settle into merely providing elegant accompaniment, there’s always much more to it than that. It’s revealing that even when Lorraine steps out alone – much of Dancing Round The Floods is just Lorraine and her guitar – she can conjure a complex emotional picture from the very simplest of elements. The notes on the guitar are simple, introspective and repetitive whilst her voice indicates momentary changes of mood as she struggles to escape post-relationship (and midwinter in Edinburgh) blues.
Her songs delve into what it is to be young, a woman, in love and out of love. As well as giving a personal take on these familiar themes, she has a nice way of being playful with words and ideas. The most obvious example is on the song that stands out as a potential (radio) hit: Stepping Stones. This opens with the line “I caught your eye and your eye caught me” and the song turns out to be an angry broadside at someone she feels used her. There’s a bit of Amy MacDonald style bounce to this song but in place of the guitars and drums we get angry, urgent pulses from the guys on the strings, driving the whole thing along. Vocally she kind of sounds halfway between Ms MacDonald and Dolores Riordan – it’s a strong voice and she really lets rip here, though I think I prefer her singing on the more reflective numbers where she gets to be more expressive. Even at her gentlest ( such as on the wistful What If ) that strength in her voice is compelling, easily able to hold its own in the context of the endlessly fascinating and inventive playing of her bandmates. This is never going to be easy, immediate music, but it is way more interesting than most of what’s on offer from young singer-songwriters.
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