wears the trousers magazine


kate walsh: light & dark (2009)
August 10, 2009, 12:20 pm
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , ,

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Kate Walsh
Light & Dark •••½
Blueberry Pie

Back on an independent label (her own) following a brief juncture with Mercury Records, rising English singer-songwriter Kate Walsh returns with her third opus Light & Dark. Fans of the Brighton Institute of Modern Music graduate’s previous two LPs, 2003’s Clocktower Park and 2007’s Tim’s House, can rest safe in the knowledge that Walsh’s strong songwriting and pretty melodies remain gloriously intact throughout these dozen songs of hope and lost love. Tempering her fragile vocals with soft but quietly intricate arrangements and clear production, it’s a quintessential singer-songwriter record – on a bed of gently plucked or strummed guitars, or delicate piano, Walsh sings tender ballads that show off her poetic prowess, backed by a sterling cast of musicians.

Rain effects usher in the soft and pretty ‘As He Pleases’, as Walsh, in a voice that recalls both Nerina Pallot and some of Martha Wainwright’s more wistful moments, sings of a lover who “takes me to a place where I can breathe in,” but one whom she is “terrified” of losing. The vocal performance is suitably melancholy, as is the arrangement, where strings swirl around some pleasingly unusual guitar playing. The similarly sad and thoughtful ‘Trying’, which features both members of Turin Brakes – Olly Knights on vocals and Gale Paridjanian on slide guitar – is just as pretty, with flourishes of electric piano backing a mid-tempo acoustic guitar strum and some stately strings. The majority of the songs here conjure the same kind of atmosphere, attractive and gentle, and it takes repeated listening for some of them to reveal their own attributes. So songs like the vaguely jaunty ‘Seafarer’ (which, with Walsh’s incredibly relaxed vocal could double as a kind of lullaby) and piano-based closer ‘Gather My Strength’ may well take a few listens for their beauty to shine through.

In among the plaintive ballads are some subtle departures. Lead single ‘June Last Year’ is a hazy, lazy country-ish strum, complete with tongue-in-cheek pedal steel, that finds a breathy Walsh reminiscing about a past lover. ‘Greatest Love’ is a complete about-turn, first downbeat and incredibly intimate then rising to a glorious string-drenched crescendo, while the title track continues the highly personal tone with its high-pitched closely mic’d vocals. Other highlights include ‘1000 Bees’, wherein Walsh reveals a more forceful pop sensibility to her acoustic arsenal, the dark, string-accented ‘Old Man’, and ‘On The Stage’, which contains some of the album’s most imaginative moments.

Like Walsh’s previous two records, Light & Dark is consistently strong, tasteful and melodic, with some interesting quirks in the arrangements and production of some songs. One could hardly call it groundbreaking, but while it might not win too many plaudits for originality, it’s a record with a lot of heart and soul. The listener comes away with the feeling of having listened to someone’s most intimate thoughts – warm, sad and often quite beautiful musings, entrenched in subtle hooks and harmonies that are easy to embrace. If Walsh is to continue her upward trajectory, she must bring something fresher to the table for album number four. But on the evidence of the songwriting on show here, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

Matt Barton
UK release date: 31/08/09; www.myspace.com/katewalsh

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