Kitty Macfarlane: Namer Of Clouds – album review
NAMER OF CLOUDS
CD / DL
Released 21 September 2018
File under the standard ‘long awaited debut album’ tag. Kitty Macfarlane fulfils the promise of her Time & Tide EP with an album “loosely bound by our clumsy ties with the land.” We scan the thesaurus in search of alternatives for ‘fragile’ as Namer Of Clouds drifts slowly by yet leaves an indelible mark.
Her musical connections mean she can build a pretty impressive fantasy folk team line up for her first full album. Bringing her nine original songs to life we have, in no particular order, Sam Kelly on guitar and co-production duties, fellow co-producer Jacob Stoney on keyboards and more as well a line up of bright young folk: Jamie Francis, Graham Coe, Archie Churchill-Moss, Tom Moore and Josh Clark who add their weight without dominating proceedings. Make no bones about it though, it’s her name on the cover, the spotlight is reserved for Kitty Macfarlane.
As she’s inclined to do at her gigs, she opens Namer Of Clouds bravely with the focus simply on her voice, although Starling Song showcases her fragile vocal against an ominous but faint underlying ambience. One of many field recordings collected and used to add a sense of openness and acknowledge the people and places that inspired the songs. It seems quite a common approach these days particularly amongst the ‘folk’ folk, but she carries it off splendidly to cast a seductive opening gambit.
A chilling ambient raises its head later on Morgan’s Pantry before halting suddenly to leave just a lonely voice while Starling Song flows seamlessly into the slow building swell of the title track whose delicate rolling intro gives no hint as to the expansive arrangement that evolves. It shows the sort of easy and unhurried confidence with which The Unthanks have made their mark.
Seventeen, “about growing up”, celebrates the simplicity of carefree younger days with a friendly chorus where gentle guitar provides a light colour in the background as Sea Silk comes built on a fascinating story and again one where field recordings provide an original variation on percussion.
Than band of players come into their own as Glass Eel builds to a refined string crescendo and a sparkle of lovely mandolin while breakers and wreckers see the return of Wrecking Days, the standout track from the first EP, in the guise of a well deserved yet subtle band arrangement which lifts it to a new level. And Jamie Francis, usually a strong presence on banjo, on electric guitar. Folks, it’s your rocking out moment of the album.
The Appalachian folk ballad Frozen Charlotte may be a cautionary tale to young female revellers of today who hit the bars in their skimpy clothing as Charlotte did in her refusal to wear a coat over her ball gown as she sets out for the night only to freeze to her death. Brilliantly arranged, it perhaps owes a nod to the time Kitty spent on tour with Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman – love to see those guys try this track. And finally, it’s back to just Kitty, almost solo, as she signs out with the pairing of Man, Friendship that may refer to her Somerset roots yet has wider interpretations, and Inversnaid that combines the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins and fades to almost inaudible birdsong.
Although it’s tempting to quote Man, Friendship’s “sweet and simple” that would be an injustice, but unquestionably Namer Of Clouds is an irresistible little gem.
Top tracks: hard to choose, but to indulge and pick three. Frozen Charlotte is a great arrangement of a trad. song; Seventeen has a classic Kitty Mac chorus – the way she phrases “the wind whips up mirrors in my eyes when I see”…; and Glass Eel, I’m a sucker for songs about eels and again the arrangement from the team is a killer.
Watch the video for Man, Friendship from the album here:
Kitty is online here.