Saturday, 12 October 2013

Karine Polwart - Traces

Fifth studio album from BBC Folk Awards winner Karine Polwart. A fine mix of story and song and quiet protest.

Pure of voice, and possessed with a way of telling a good story within a song, Karine Polwart's latest album will undoubtedly please her Radio Two target audience. While her songs are rooted in traditional Scottish folk forms, it's a record that shimmers with just the right amount of modern studio gloss. Her closely miked voice augmented with tastefully sparse addition of harmonium, guitar, sansula, clarinet, and flute. Though the record may seem musically conservative, especially to younger ears, it's the strength of the songwriting that's her main asset and sets the album apart.

What really resonates is her eye for a good story, and her ability to create something compassionate and and compelling out of everyday observations. Take for example Tinsel Town, where she recalls seeing magical lights and flames from a petrochemical plant near her childhood home. It's political without the overtness that would hamper a less talented songsmith.

Elsewhere there are tales of golf parks taking over local beauty spots despite nearby resident's protests (Cover Your Eyes), adaptations of Russian poems (Tears For Lot's Wife), homages to the emotional resonance of buildings and homes (Sticks n Stones), and the heartbreaking tale of the death of a schoolgirl taking her first unaccompanied walk home on Half A Mile.

There's a case to made for this album as a protest record. Not in an overt sense, but within its quietly dignified stance, its belief in community and neighbourliness, and its resolute opposition to big business' love of profit over people.