thu 18/08/2022

Album: Kathryn Williams & Carol Ann Duffy - Midnight Chorus | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Kathryn Williams & Carol Ann Duffy - Midnight Chorus

Album: Kathryn Williams & Carol Ann Duffy - Midnight Chorus

A perfect seasonal mood conjured by two of our greatest writers of the everyday

Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams has always had a literary bent. This doesn’t just manifest in overt ways, like writing a concept album about Sylvia Plath in 2015’s Hypoxia, but in perfectly potted narratives, microscopically brilliant turns of phrase, and even titles that make you double-take going all the way back to 1999’s “Dog Without Wings”. 

And this tendency is not just written into her lyrics, but her performance too. Her understated style and vocals which combine impossibly pure tone with conversational earthiness bring the fine detail of words to the surface, on her own songs and others’. Her essential 2004 covers album Relations exposed the deep poetry not just of Leonard Cohen and Tim Hardin but the Bee Gees, Nirvana and Pavement. 

So it makes absolute sense that she would eventually team up with a poet for a project. And not just any poet but one who, like Williams, finds the sublime in the vernacular and the numinous in the normal as a matter of course, earning herself a ten year tenure as Poet Laureate for her pains. And together, Williams and Carol Ann Duffy have made a Christmas album. A truly lovely one at that. 

There’s a brilliant, maybe accidental, elegance in the fact that the most obviously religious moment here is a prayer to the “Dear Lord” in the hope of meeting Dolly Parton – who happened to make last year’s best Christmas album. But there is none of Dolly’s glitter or camp here. There are plenty of big harmonies and jingling bells, there are plenty of melodic hooks, but really this is about a capturing of the intangible qualities of the season with all its bittersweet anticipations and disappointments. 

It’s the perfect record for the COVID era, where separation and togetherness have been thrown into sometimes bitter relief. It doesn’t skimp on acknowledgement of loneliness, of harshness, of false hope. But at the same time, even though it’s written for, as one title puts it, “All Ye Doubtful”, it is a ultimately a celebration of life: of “the dead and the living, all their stories told and retold”. It’s a record about community, about what brings us together, and crucially it is one that will put you in the Christmas mood, more so on each listen.

@joemuggs

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