Prepare to be transported into the stories told by Katherine Priddy on her debut album, ‘The Eternal Rocks Beneath’. The folk artist does not just tell her tales. She makes you feel them too. Her stirring soundscapes are enough to stir the imagination, give cause for reflection, and transform the poetic form into lyrics that are ever so pleasing on the ear. Her versatile vocals ensure a deft interpretation of each song on the album, melding effortlessly with the music. It ensures a strong bond to the folk tradition even as Priddy expands beyond its borders, into other genres, like Americana. Such cross-fertilisation of genres affirms hers as a wholly contemporary sound.
The opening track ‘Indigo’ is wonderfully mellow in tone, with playful lyrics that cast back to Priddy’s childhood. It is suitably hypnotic too, the transition from tweeting birds to swirling music giving the impression of a journey into another world; in this case, a world of distant memory, suddenly coloured by the harmonies of Priddy, the floating strings and the gentle drumbeats of the band. ‘Wolf’ continues such ethereality, its mix of high-rise vocals and soaring sounds making it the most atmospheric song on the album. It is closely followed by ‘Icarus’, Mikey Kenny’s fiddle helping to recreate the ascent/descent of the title character of popular Greek myth to great effect.
‘Eurydice’ is the second Greek myth to be reinterpreted by Priddy. It is appositely darker than its predecessor however, echoing the melancholic instrumentation of the theme to BBC4 series The Bridge. Katherine Priddy’s vocals are as memorable here as the Choir of Young Believers are there, her voice so intimately bound up with the music as to be sewn into it. This is true on every track of the album, where the touching poignancy of ‘About Rosie’ and the doomed romanticism of ‘The Spring Never Came’, for example, are deftly conveyed in the versatile vocals that weave themselves inextricably into the instrumental composition.
This harmonious blend of voice and instrument is surely what contributes to the richness of the lyrics. There are so many wonderful lines that are so strikingly erudite as to read like a book of quotations, evidence of Katherine’s love for literature and poetry. Phrases like “your troubles are old for a body so young”; “chains on the heart are the hardest to break”, and “even ocean waves must bow down to the shore” melt in the mouth as they are sung. She has a wisdom beyond her years, encased in music that is evocative in its imagery. ‘The Isle of Eigg’ paints a picture of contented isolation in the Hebrides whilst ‘Letters From a Travelling Man’ is suitably bouncy in its life-on-the-road story.
‘Ring O’ Roses’ could easily be placed loch-side, gazing up into the misty mountains of a Scottish terrain. Or come further South, to the far North of England, and a foggy day on Tyneside could be conjured up such is the arrangement reminiscent of The Unthanks. In fact, the music of Rachel and Becky, straddling as it does the traditional and modern, acoustic and sonic, is a suitable comparison for the line that Katherine Priddy walks here as she draws in a range of elements to make ‘The Eternal Rocks Beneath’ a very contemporary folk album. The final track, ‘The Summer has Flown’, simply underlines this definition, with poetic descriptions, told in plaintive tones, that are caught up in the transcendent rise of the musical arrangement, creating some truly atmospheric storytelling that ends, as the album began, with the simple sound of birdsong. It adds a beautiful finishing touch to an album that is sure to shine on its release.
Review written by Gareth Williams (twitter.com/lostinbluejazz1)