Polly Barrett, native of Cork, self-released this debut album last year in Ireland and now a short late summer tour of England is an excuse for us on this side of the Irish Sea to catch up with her music. She started out her musical life as a busker, one woman and her acoustic guitar with a beautiful, clear voice. Her native accent comes through nicely as she sings her songs of life and love, shot through with a whimsical dreaminess; the really lovely thing about her singing is the way she has learned to be so measured, as if she has all the time in the world. Notes are drawn out gently and little gaps and silences are confidently left, to let the ripples made by her last phrase dissipate in their own good time.
It’s brave, perhaps, but Polly and her co-producer Tomas Mulcahy have chosen to keep the arrangements as spare as possible – no hiding place behind some lush production going on here. It’s a testament to Polly’s performance skills, then, that she holds your attention even with that relentless focus on her singing and acoustic guitar playing. The closing track, Home, shows just how confident and controlled her singing performance is with her vocal right in the spotlight – just some gently strummed chords on acoustic guitar for accompaniment. The stroke of genius in this production is to use Michael Daly’s banjo as the chief extra instrument. Alongside Polly’s acoustic guitar it broadens the aural landscape nicely, but on Synchronicity the banjo’s distinctive voice moves centre stage as Josh Sampson knocks out a relaxed, shuffling drum beat to give the song a little pace, and this particular combination of voice, banjo and drums seems to work really well.
Comparisons have been made with every songstress from Mary Black to Kate Rusby and, understandably, the tag “folk-pop” has been bandied about. The lack of attempt at serious pop production suggests this girl is more interested in keeping it real than scoring a pop hit and personally I can hear a strong echo of Eleanor McEvoy, another excellent Irish singer/songwriter who has followed her own instincts to great acclaim over the last few years.
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