Having one eye to the past to inform the eye that’s facing the future: rarely can such a concise, knowing title as Historia have been given to any album. Or a more appropriate one, since this second offering from Kim Lowings and her band, The Greenwood, straddles the modern and the traditional with absolute assurance.
The tight, supportive band provides delicate arrangements that never overwhelm the songs. Kim’s voice is mellow and pleasing on the ear, with a soft huskiness in the lower end. On occasions, when she seems to really let her voice off the leash, as on Dark-Eyed Sailor, its full range and potential becomes evident. More of this would be very welcome.
As a songwriter, she effortlessly blends traditional stylings with original lyrics. She is equally comfortable exploring mythological themes in opener The Wood Wife or else slap-bang up to date with workers’ anthem I’m Still Here. This country-tinged song stands up as a classic “worm-that-turned” everyman tale, whilst also reputedly being inspired by personal experience.
John and Maggie’s Song form a pair. The former is a narration by Kim’s grandfather of a family anecdote that Kim then retells in song. It’s an upbeat tale of drunken shenanigans on the sea, with a catchy “counting” chorus that’s bound to make it a gig favourite. Against this is counter-balanced the simplicity of the lullaby which follows.
With the lively version of broken token ballad Dark-Eyed Sailor, this album really seems to pick up in terms of pace and energy. Followed quickly along by the album’s only instrumental, the gorgeous Alfrick, written by Andrew Lowings.
The meatily beaty Willow keeps up the tempo, before dropping back a little for The Blacksmith. This, with its subtly plinking arrangement sets up a raindrop-like rhythm that becomes a fulll-on wash of steamy deluge during Monsoon. Set on a Singapore train, the mantra repetition of the lyrics gives it a hypnotic feel. The rain theme continues into Regret, a simple sad tale of loss and grief, whose abrupt end refuses to offer simple consolations, leaving the pain fully exposed and raw.
From such bleakness, there’s only one way to finish off and that’s with a rousing take on the traditional Bonny Labouring Boy. The beautiful rasping closing notes are a fitting final reminder of how well Anna Oprenova’s violin fleshes out the band’s sound.
It’s clear that a great deal of thought has gone into the juxtaposition of each song on the album. Each provides contrasting or complementary moods, themes and textures. There seems to be greater musical light and shade in the second part of the album, though. Lyrically, there’s a slight tendency to slip into cliché rather than reach for something fresher, but these are minor gripes in an album of great strength and promise. This band should easily continue to cement what’s already a solid - and growing - reputation. Keep that eye on the future.Su O’Brien
Released on Greenwood Records, 01 October 2015.
1. The Wood Wife
2. I’m Still Here
4. Maggie’s Song
6. Dark Eyed Sailor
9. The Blacksmith
12. Bonny Labouring Boy