Known for her antiquated musical influence and penchant for over-bowed fiddle and double-barrelled recorder, Norfolk folk musician Laura Cannell has today released ‘Beneath Swooping Talons’ – follow-up to the similarly avian ‘Quick Sparrows Over the Black Earth’. I can’t say I was expecting to listen to an album where half the songs were played on two recorders, but here we are.
Starting from fragments of Medieval & Early Music, Laura plays around the notes; an improvisation around the source material that allows it to develop a multitude of dimensions. Far from being recreationist, her music seems to originate from a country of its own creation – one belonging equally to folk history, to the barren East Anglian countryside it evokes and to Laura herself. It’s uniquely rooted in tradition while benefiting from the freedom of contemporary music, the currency of both contributing to its sum total.
In terms of sound, the unconventional use of principle instruments fiddle and recorder(s) is fascinating. There are melodies within melodies, it seems, and the dissonance between these different voices is part of what makes the album so haunting. Expanding the function of the instruments in such a way allows for a more expressive range, and Laura’s playing makes the most of this. The droning effect the deconstructed bow creates is mesmerizing and uncannily graceful, while at other times it’s aggressive; atonal. There are calmer passages, though it would be hard to call these relaxing. It’s hard to forget that the album soundtracks a grey day on flat marshland, and if you’re there you’re probably wearing a waterproof jacket and some wellies. Wherever there is beauty here there’s something bleak running parallel to it.
Opaque and enigmatic, whatever landscapes it suggests are not ones that are easily navigated. This is perhaps part of what makes it so compelling. Performed and recorded in one take, it’s not the kind of record that benefits from an overwrought listen – it’s immediacy sounds sharply from the darkness and falls back into silence as suddenly as it came. A stunning, heavy listen.
‘Beneath Swooping Talons’ out now on Front & Follow.
Words from Wesley Freeman-Smith.