Tuesday 24 June 2014


CD Review

A Curious Tale

It's been a busy time for Hertfordshire trio Said The Maiden, their delicious harmonies have been making a big impression on the folk scene; they have recently finished a tour with the legendary fiddler Dave Swarbrick and now they have released their debut album A Curious Tale.

Hannah Elizabeth
When you can open an album a capella and set your stall out with a clear message that your voices are good enough on their own and thus anything else is a bonus, you know you are in for something special.
If you like your folk traditional then this album is a must; if you like great voices and harmonies then this album is a must; if you like equally good music on top of great voices then this album is a must.
Hannah Elizabeth, Jess Distill and Kathy Pilkinton are the Full Monty, and no jokes about striptease please,  with the opening track A Fine Young Smith they send a clear message that this is how good we are with just our voices -  but wait there's more. A Curious Tale is a gorgeous album full of history; musical tradition; elaborate and evocative harmonies and tunes which tell tales on their own and yet feels right now, both fresh and refreshing.
There is everything to like about this album which includes the crazy artwork drawn by Chloe Harmsworth which has a rustic style, and that is in no way a criticism, yet somehow has a sinister undertone which seems to hark back to  traditional fairy tales which carry that innate darkness within their narrative and wouldn't be out of place in The Wicker Man.
Kathy Pilkinton
The maidens bring in the instruments on Rain and Snow with the definite beat of Pilkinton's guitar strumming but it still has to play second fiddle, pun intended, to the strong harmonies of the trio. This was one of the first songs the maidens learned to sing together and they have honed it to where there voices complement each other and harmonise perfectly.
It's appropriate that master fiddler Swarbs provided the strings and bow for the next track, Shady Grove. The 18th century tune was a staple of his in his former incarnation as a member of Fairport Convention and while there have been many versions, the maidens' offering has certainly breathed new life into it.
They have given it a range-riding rhythm where you can almost feel yourself bouncing up and down to the movement on the back of the horse. Swarbrick's playing pushes it along wonderfully and the voices come in and out almost like a shootout at a barbershop contest.
Jess Distill
They go back to a capella for I Wonder What Is Keeping My True Love This Night. It's here more than any other track you get the full pleasure of their harmonies. They build up layers with their singing in a way which paints a full picture of the sad narrative of the love story.
There is some great music on the soundtrack to the wonderful film Cold Mountain and one in particular is I Wish, I Wish which is a good ol' mountain song that has a spine-melting rasping fiddle track to it. However, the maidens are having none of it. Their voices are good enough and they give it almost a spiritual sound with the only accompaniment being their clapping. It is a toss up between this and the previous track as to which best shows off their flowing harmonies and vocal melodies.
Joan Baez brought Silver Dagger, a tune from the early 20th century, to prominence and the maidens have pretty much left it alone simply using their colourful voices to bring the song to life adding only some simple inserts from a careful selection of instruments. Their voices convey such emotion and they are as organic as listening to birdsong.
A Sailor's Promise is a cracking track for two reasons, once again their gorgeous harmonies are a real pleasure to indulge in but mostly because it's their own work.  Written by Distill to a tune from her father this gentle ballad is simply a beautiful piece of music and if this is an example of how they put songs together then they can't get started on an album of their own works fast enough.
Artwork by Chloe Harmsworth
Elizabeth picks up the accordion for the haunting sound of False, False. It does have the feel of a dirge without being depressing and they have made sure their separate harmonies keep strict boundaries unlike previous tracks where they have blended to be almost as one voice on occasion,  this track keeps them very much apart so you actually feel as if you are listening to three different songs without it sounding fractured.
The Rabbit's Bride is a great bit of fun, with guest vocalist James O'Hara Knight pulling his voice up from his bootlaces to bring the rabbit of the dark fairytale to life.
The opening sounds something like Harp & A Monkey would include on their eclectic tracks. Knight's voice sounds like it comes deep from within a rabbit hole and it's a wonderfully traditional tale that really needs to be made into a video or short film with Harmsworth doing the animation.
Knight's deep and gravelly tones add a really dark element to the light and crystal sounds of the maidens. And to whet the appetite even further for an album of their own material, this is another of the maidens' own work.
In contrast Barrack Street is a lovely, light bouncy tune which bears a remarkable resemblance to The Lincolnshire Poacher. The maidens' voices dance along lightly helped by the lovely sounds of the mandolin, always a bonus, and the penny whistle.
Said The Maiden's debut album
They finish the disc as they began simply with their voices with their version of the much-covered traditional Fiddlers' Green which many associate with Banjo Barney McKenna from The Dubliners. They give the lament a lovely light and feminine touch which is really original and refreshing.
Said The Maiden's debut album is wonderful, their voices are a real delight. They have kept everything simple, traditional and wonderfully familiar, even the songs they have created themselves seem to have built in instant tradition.
They have created a challenge for themselves though because, with this album they have set the benchmark really high right from the start, so have a real target to better it with the next one which hopefully will be mostly their work.
However, saying that, if the two tracks of original works on this album are anything to go by then they won't have any difficulty in building an even more enjoyable collection of songs.

A Curious Tale is available now from www.saidthemaiden.co.uk

Other links: http://chloevalerieart.weebly.com/

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for the mention, Danny. What a wonderful review! I really appreciate it. I know the girls will be thrilled too :-D.
    If you (or anyone else) would like to check out my website, it can be found here: http://chloevalerieart.weebly.com/ Thanks!
    - Chloe Harmsworth