Kathryn Williams, The Quickening – a stunning record, a live gig, magic mushrooms, a camel on a broom-handle and music to die for.
[this review/article was first published on the iTunes UK store on 22/02/2010 by Ryan Price]
I had the devine pleasure of seeing kathryn last night at the glee club in Birmingham. Everytime I see and hear her on stage, it’s like meeting with old friends. Warm comfort. She played with a full band (who were amazing) and I felt so lucky to have shared in such a special evening. Although I say this on everyone of kathryn’s new releases, ‘The Quickening’ is without doubt her best, most acomplished record to date, a beautiful creation of seducing harmonies and inspiring arrangements. It feels like a dream, like coming home. Now I’m left with the warm afterglow that cannot be dampened. Kathryn did a great job with Kate St. John, Nev Clay and Neill Maccoll and the rest of the band. In kathryn’s own words, getting such great musicians together is like herding cats, so it might be a while until we hear something this good again…
“Kathryn Williams waves a tender goodbye to the noughties and enters the ‘teenies’ with the release of her eighth studio album ‘The Quickening’ onFebruary 22nd next year, her first for new label One Little Indian.
The new record was recorded at Bryn Derwen studio in North Wales ‘in four days, all live, three takes maximum’and includes a couple of co- writes with longstanding collaborator, guitarist David Scott: ‘It has a mood’ she suggests, ‘a slightly sinister palette with lyrics that are raw. I see myself in these songs a lot, whereas before I invented characters.’
The album was produced by Kathryn and Kate St. John (ex-Dream Academy) and mixed by Kathryn and David Wrench. Of the songs Kathryn says ‘I always wonder if people get the same pictures in their head as me from the lyrics and music. I see the songs as shapes when I sing them, as journeys through pictures or film’. Album opener ‘50 White Lines’ is a great example, Kathryn re-imagining the long journeys on tour as a Bonnie & Clyde style escapade; in the background a male voice ‘counts’ the road markings or lights as they flash by in the protagonist’s flight from city to city, town to town.
‘It’s a little world of rules I couldn’t write down but I work to them and around them, and I know my way around that world,’ says Kathryn of her song writing itself, ‘I’m forever scared that the way of making the songs will leave me. But in the end, that is part of what drives me.’” So. To the songs:
‘50 White Lines’
The album opens with the sound of rainfall and a ticking indicator giving way to a song about long distance driving. Given the subject matter, it’s a beautiful and slightly hypnotic way to open the album. A male voice counts the white lines on the road as Kathryn sings about “lights in the mirror, darting like fish”. ‘Just A Feeling’
A softly spoken vocal and finger-picked guitar reminiscent of Nick Drake accompany a lyric full of philosophical musings and self-doubt: “Is belief a scratch you’ve got to itch? What if love is just a feeling?”
‘Winter Is Sharp’
The closest thing to a traditional English folk song Kathryn has released to date, this short little shanty sees Kathryn accompanied by a backing vocal that evokes The Unthanks or Eliza Carthy, plus accordion and ukelele that picks up pace to bring the track to a frenetic conclusion. ‘Wanting & Waiting’
Backed by piano and banjo, this reimagining of The Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’ is a song about wishing away the hours of a 9 to 5 job and yearning instead for long romantic nights. It’s an evocative portrait of young love in the city and perhaps the album’s most obvious choice for a single.
At just 83 seconds long, ‘Black Oil’ punctuates the album with a snapshot of a field at dusk full of shining yellow flowers and birds “head to toe in black oil”. Like ‘Little Black Numbers’ before it, this mysterious curiosity of a song leaves much to interpretation. ‘Just Leave’
Far from the all-consuming young love of ‘Wanting & Waiting’, ‘Just Leave’ is a bleak depiction of a couple falling apart at the seams. Weighed down by heavy silences and her partner’s wandering heart, the song’s narrator pleads, “Just leave, just leave, just leave.”
The theme of a love slipping away is continued on ‘Smoke’. A glockenspiel leads a stripped back arrangement while Kathryn sings, “Holding you is like holding smoke… I kiss and I blow and you float out of sight.” ‘Cream Of The Crop’
The first of two consecutive jazz-infused tracks that bring about a strange shift in tone at this point on the record. Co-written with long-time collaborator David Scott and previously performed live, it’s a strong song but one that would perhaps have sounded more at home on earlier album, Old Low Light.
‘There Are Keys’
The second slightly incongruous track on the record with its woozy vocal and atmospheric production, the lyric is centred around a missing loved one and the narrator’s desire to know that they’re safe. ‘Noble Guesses’
It’s back to a more folk-oriented sound with ‘Noble Guesses’. Kathryn sings about the importance and value of absence and various ‘holes’ – from the gaps needed to structure the first periodic table to the enigmatic space left in a family album where a polaroid once was.
A curious track co-written with poet Nev Clay and Kathryn’s new touring bassist Simon Edwards. With a lead bassline, handclaps and an undulating vocal, it’s a kind of campfire song that quickly works its way into the consciousness with the refrain “Give a little lesson for our love”. ‘Up North’
A paean to Kathryn’s home in the north of England, she sings “If I could always be next to you I would”, perhaps regretting that she has to spend so much time on the road away from family and friends. The song brings the album, which began behind the wheel, full circle, with the first and last tracks providing neat bookends for a diverse but inspired collection of songs.
‘Starling’ – (iTunes exclusive extra)
With an underdub of the shipping forcast, a harmony of starlings on telephone wires – a whimsical story of wanting to be up in the air, of breaking free. Available now – Download or buy the quickening from Amazon, Play.com or iTunes:
http://www.play.com/Music/CD/-/34/48/-/13506403/The-Quickening/Product.html?s… Fan info: