Thursday, 16 June 2016

JENNY STURGEON

CD Review

From The Skein


Scot Jenny Sturgeon is as close to an organic folksinger/songwriter as you can get. She absorbs the culture, essence, stories and legends of her native region and manufactures them into inspired songs and tunes which reflect much of the natural world around her.

Jenny Sturgeon with her shruti box
She doesn't have the most powerful of voices but she does have strong character and versatility to her vocals which remind of June Tabor or Fay Hield. Her singing has a solid resonance and a depth which brings the subjects of her songs to life.
The opening track on her debut album creeps up on you like a mist across the heather.
Sturgeon's voice comes like a siren cutting through the background instruments. The bouncing cadence of her lyrics and staccato ending of each verse give the dark tale of Maiden Stone a foreboding and sinister feel.
What follows is The Raven and again Sturgeon keeps that brooding style but you feel a softer edge to her singing on what is very close to a sea shanty. The repetitive nature of the verses almost mirror the movement of waves. Underneath there is the fractured sound of the fiddle and drums which although apparently working separately contribute to the whole to give a feeling of movement.
Running Free is a languorous ballad to begin with but builds up with a strong modern beat.
Nature, like so many of her songs, provides the inspiration for Selkie and opens with a sound similar to the shipping forecast before the fullness of Sturgeon's voice comes through with a retro feel, having the sound of protest songs of old from singers such as Joan Baez.
The track is a complex tapestry with the accompaniment wrapping itself around her lyrics like the water around the selkie of the title, which if you didn't know are mythical creatures which resemble seals in the water but can adopt human form when on dry land. The kind of singing skills which were clearly on display with one of her other musical projects Clype.
Nowhere Else I'd Rather Be also has a retro feel and could easily be part of a soundtrack of a Sixties new wave film. Sturgeon has such a restful voice in this song you can almost feel the landscape as she moves through the verses.
The Cutty Sark
Honest Man is another gentle ballad, lighter than the previous and with Sturgeon's voice skipping the lyrics along. The gentle picking of the guitar add atmospheric highlights to what is almost a calypso beat. Once again Sturgeon shows the character she can create with her singing using her distinct Aberdeenshire accent.
This is followed by the incredibly atmospheric and ethereal song based on the traditional ballad Three Sisters. Sturgeon's adaptation, Culan, is full of Celtic character and the singer provides another brooding sound to her storytelling with the refrains in Gaelic adding to the mystery.
Sturgeon picks up the pace again for Linton which is inspired by Hercules Linton the designer of the Cutty Sark. There are sections of the tune which have shades of the German national anthem which are weaved into the tale of the tea clipper's creation and journeys.
Harbour Masters is a ballad of reclamation coming from Sturgeon's interest in all things natural. Her home overlooks Aberdeen Harbour and although once heavily industrialised she focuses on nature gentle reclaiming what was originally hers.
Her A Capella rendition of Judgement reminds of Tracy Chapman's Behind The Wall. Sturgeon's straightforward political song speaks for itself, the words are powerful and sung with commitment in a way which almost defies anyone to try to put her in a box.
The debut album
The Honours is a wonderful tale of daring-do and Sturgeon keeps it traditional with a slight medieval feel to both the tune and the cadence of her singing.
The final track of the album, Fair Drawin' In, is sung and played in a laid back manner alluding to the days getting shorter from mid-summer to winter.
In creating this album Sturgeon has assembled an impressive cast of musicians and vocalists Rahul K Ravindran, Hannah Crawford and Ana-Maia MacLellan add real colour and atmosphere on several of the tracks.
When you listen to this album you are caught up Sturgeon's enthusiasm, obvious love and respect for flora and fauna so much so, listening to this album is like opening the door for the first time onto a world many of us take for granted and miss, letting the patent beauty around us pass us by in our rush to get somewhere.

From The Skein is out now on Tamarach Records and is available from the artist's website and through the usual downloads.

You can see her live on June 17 at Deeside Inn, Ballater, the following night at Eyemouth Hippodrome. The on June 25 she is at Glenbuchat Hall - ceilidh collective (workshop), followed by June 26 at Portsoy Boat Festival. The it's another festival on July 9 and 10 where she will be at Stonehaven Folk Festival (workshop). On July 22 she plays An Tobar, Mull then on the 23rd Knoydart. Later in the month she spends July 26 and 27 on Isle of May. On July 30th she is at Tullynessle Hall - ceilidh collective (workshop) and to finish the month on July 31 she has a house concert, Aboyne and Deeside Festival.