Sunday 18 May 2014


CD Review


This is a seriously, seriously cool album. It's clever, ethereal, complex, mystical, full of folk lore, magical characters and stories. It is the musical equivalent of the wardrobe in the Narnia saga - a way into another world opened up by Mishaped Pearls.

Mishaped Pearls new album Thamesis
The opening track Old Father Thames starts with what sounds like someone trying to master the knack of pizzicato on an instrument, unaware anyone is recording it.
But it slides into the haunting sound of German mezzo soprano Manuela Schutte whose voice comes wafting in like a siren.
There is a great similarity to the gorgeous sound of Clannad and the song has the strange quality of feeling both fractured and flowing at the same time.
If you are familiar with the legend of faerie rings and how their music and songs lure passersby into their world then this is probably what it would sound like.
Schutte's definite, yet gentle tones, come to the fore on Cornish Girl and brings with it a chorus which is very reminiscent of Pink Floyd.
Her notes float in and out of the music which is so evocative, with the fiddle sometimes sounding like birdsong and sometimes like the rushing traffic.
An almost middle eastern sounding beat introduces Jimmy and Schutte comes in with what is close to a wail bringing the narrative of magical powers and tragedy as the music builds and paints a canvas where you can see musicians leaping around hypnotising the listeners with a Faustian dance.
The onomatopoeic opening of Doves, where you can hear every raindrop of the lyrics, has an ominous rhythm that you always feel is building up to something bigger but, just when you think the crescendo has arrived it's snatched away to rebuild again in a teasing manner.
Tamesis, which for some reason is spelled differently to the title of the album, is an epic track just as the artery of England which was its inspiration is.
It's starts with gentle birdsong and a single pizzicato sound as if drifting along the gently current of the Isis with the sun flickering on the water. Schutte's other worldly lyrics such as "She washes her hair in sunlight." set the scene as the narrative and music move slowly to find the bustling Thames. You can feel the exact moment it turns into the serpentine gash which divides the metropolis.
Mishaped Pearls
Schutte has a voice which sailors would dread encountering, so enthralling and alluring are her tones you would be afraid of forever being ensnared by the beauty of her song. Such is the feeling created in Three Ravens, a traditional English ballad from the 17th century where Schutte and Ged Flood have captured the dark and sinister side of the lyrics perfectly.
One of the real gems on this album is Fledgling, a gorgeously evocative song, gentle in its execution and powerful in the emotions and images it can conjure up when you let it flow over you like a warm zephyr over a field of ripe corn.
Manuela Schutte
Schutte is almost lazy in her singing with Six Dukes which is a simple, traditional tale of noblemen out fishing who discover the body of a fellow duke, so they do the right thing and give him a decent burial where his wife is allowed to mourn her loss. It's a wonderful example of how folk musicians can take a tale which is more than 300 years old and give it new life without losing the roots of its past.
The penultimate track is Mishaped Pearls' version of Ralph McTell's First and Last Man besides a change of gender in the lyrics, they stay pretty much true to his version but they do give it more of a Celtic, almost tribal sound with Schutte's wonderfully strong voice providing the lyrics.
There is a bonus track on the album which is pretty much a musical folly La La La is just the cherry on the cake, there for no other reason than to simple enjoy.
Thamesis is a wonderfully original album, full of little nuances and gems scattered along a journey which is coloured and illustrated by fantastic inspirations, strong tunes and vocals. Schutte, Flood, and all those involved in this album have produced something which is simply magical.

Thamesis is released on May 26 through Proper Music.

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