Sunday 14 September 2014


CD Review

This Land

Without any hint of being patronising Kelly Oliver seems to have matured so much in such a short time it almost defies the laws of nature. If there was a crossroads for folk singers you could easily suspect she has waited there for you know who. 

Kelly Oliver
All joking aside, rubbing shoulders with some of the legends of the folk world not least of which is Dave Swarbrick couldn't have done any harm either.
Oliver may not have been around that long but she has slotted right in and looks and feels at home on the folk circuit like a veteran but having the advantage of her fresh and vibrant sound.
This Land seems to have a retro element built into it and the opening track Witch of Wakeham is a perfect example.
There is something just so familiar about her voice and yet so new. It  has a freshness about it and yet you could take her back to the iconic festivals of the 60s and she wouldn't be out of place at all.
While it would be a little presumptuous to say she is the new Joni Mitchell there is a good chance Mitchell fans will see a great similarity and warm to her.
The opening of Diamond Girl is just so attention-grabbing, it has those gentle uber-folk chords and this time Oliver's voice has overtones of the incredibly talented Kate Bush. It's simple, effective and just a real pleasure to listen to.
There doesn't seem a great deal of difference between the previous track and Mary and the Soldier, it has the same cadence and easy melody. And once again Oliver's gentle and girlish tones make it just one of life's simpler pleasures to sit and listen to it. Mr Officer is another that seems almost like a cover of a Mitchell song except for this time you have the added bonus of Oliver showing her talent for the harmonica.
This is without doubt one of the best tracks on the album and shows the depth to Oliver's singing which is underpinned by the mildly throbbing beat of her guitar which seems to double up as the rhythm section.
In contrast she goes back to the gentle rhythm with Far From Home which is the kind of lovely ballad Oliver does so well.
The great Joni Mitchell
This is accented wonderfully with the easy rasp of the harmonica. The tune again is very simple but what makes it is Oliver's clear and feminine tones and the more you listen to her the more her voice becomes familiar and enjoyable.
One of the drawbacks with Caledonia, an ancient name for Scotland, is it has been covered so many times, sometimes better sometimes not so. If you are going to do a version of such a well-known anthem then you really need to bring something new or clearly stamp your mark on it.
Oliver sticks to the standard version and while the execution is perfect and Oliver has the voice to carry it off it's no better or worse than many other versions.
The young performer is a superb ballad singer, her voice is perfect for that gentle folk sound and if you want evidence of this then just listen to A Gush of Wind.
Off to the Market is another which feels like it could have been lifted from the Mitchell catalogue but then she comes in with the Dylan-style harmonica and you suddenly realise, Whoa! this is something different. You feel also there is a harder edge to her singing just waiting to be let loose but for the moment it's being kept under wraps.
It may sound bizarre, but she does some absolutely beautiful guitar intros to her songs they are just so mellow, pleasant and invoke memories of things from your past. And while you can't quite put your finger on something specific you know you are recalling an enjoyable time.
Quite how Oliver seems to make nostalgia contemporary is something of a mystery but she does it so well and so easily that is doubles the pleasure of listening to her.
Kelly Oliver's debut album This Land
Granpa Was a Stoker is a perfect example, it has all the elements of the traditional folk telling the tale of ordinary people and their trades and yet somehow connecting you to your own ancestors and the trades they carried out. This is something Oliver needs to keep, she has this ability to reach people at a deep emotional level with her singing.
The final track, Playing With Sand,  is a narrative of family life and finds Oliver at her most animated musically.
Her guitar playing has a harder edge not seen in any of the other tracks on the album.
This is a debut album many would be proud of and rightly so.
There is an element of playing it safe which is understandable for a first album but just listening to Oliver on these tracks you know there is so much more to come.
She is fortunate in having talent by the bucketload and others have taken years to reach what is Oliver's starting point.
At the very least this is a laudable debut but moreso it's started the musical salivation for the second.

This land is released on October 27

You can see Kelly Oliver at the Folk21 West Midlands Regional Day at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton on September 20.

Other links:

The Mike Harding Folk Show

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