The most obvious things which hits you about Kelly Oliver's second album is how both her maturity and confidence have come on in leaps and bounds. She has also refined her distinctive vocal style which occupies the ground somewhere between Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell.
You can also add to that some impressive songwriting as all but two of the songs on the album are Oliver's own work, the others were put together with the help of Nigel Stonier and Stuart Hanna.
Opening with the title track, she sets the bar fairly high right from the first bouncing note and you think this is either going to be a rollercoaster; she has peaked too early and it's going to be downhill from here or this is a starting point from where to launch a clearly class album. Fortunately Oliver takes the latter route.
The ballad comes in strongly sliding along on Hanna's fiddle underneath where Oliver's definite but liquid voice comes in, almost staccato, as though she is challenging the strummed rhythm to try and better her singing.
There are few elements to this song but they are used so precisely and blended together neatly that it sounds like there are far more instruments involved than in actuality. What Oliver has also developed is the style of a double edged sword, whereby the tune and singing is quite light and bouncy yet the words are pretty serious and cutting. Lyrics such as, "I had myself a little young girl, and I wasn't prepared to bring her into the world, they said she was a danger to me, so they tied me up and then they took my child away from me."
She keeps a similar pace for another Oliver/Hanna collaboration, Lay Our Heavy Heads but this time her voice takes on a much more reserved quality, toning down the power without losing any of the clarity and keeping that high range which she does so well.
You have to give it to the two musicians, and of course the production team, they produce a sound and feel which belies the compact elements they employ to create the songs.
This is followed by Jericho which is the first outing on the album for Oliver's harmonica skills. With the swinging rhythm Oliver remarkably gives a power ballad feel to what is a quite gentle song but her voice sounds like it is keeping almost unlimited power in check.
This track also features the impressive fiddle and singing skills of Ciaran Algar.
Oliver's gobiron skills open In The City, in an extremely familiar and folky way leading into what is a real slick ballad where you can feel she has cranked up the emotional content. This seems to be a precursor to The Other Woman because the emotive knob is turned up even further with her voice adding real meat to the bones of this brooding ballad.
Oliver's voice has a melancholic edge to it and you can almost see her on a windswept cliff singing her woes to the sea and the wind. Every now and again she tweaks the vocals to create the feel of a torch song. Lukas Drinkwater very subtly adds a quite menacing and throaty bass line.
Same World is a really laid back, close to lazy ballad which could be an indicator of just how relaxed Oliver has become with performing. Whether or not this is the case, Oliver makes the song come across as one she could do with her eyes shut and one hand behind her back.
What is a lovely quirky touch is how, whether intentionally or not, the occasional phrase comes out in what sounds like her local accent and Ghosts At Night is one of them.
Her gentle singing perfectly complements the equally subtle strumming of the guitar with highlights added by the harmonica.
On this track she has that breathy but punchy sound which really reminds you of Mitchell. Towards the end of this thoroughly enjoyable album is Die This Way which has a more sombre feel to it with the harmonica giving the opening a really thoughtful feeling.
The subject is quite dark but Oliver has this quality of adding gravitas to the song without it getting too heavy or depressing.
|The new album
You have to face it, Oliver is developing into a remarkable acoustic/folk singer and songwriter and the best thing is you feel there is so much waiting in the wings which will only be improved with more years and wider experience under her belt.
You also get a sense she is going to be around for some while and in 10 or 15 years time they will be talking about her in the same way they do now about the dames of folk such as June Tabor, Kathryn Roberts, Fay Hield, Miranda Sykes and Nancy Kerr.
Bedlam will be available for download on line from January 28 at the start of her 2016 tour and officially released on March 6 through Folkstock Records.