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CD: Jackie Oates - Saturnine | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Jackie Oates - Saturnine

CD: Jackie Oates - Saturnine

This folkstress’s stuff is far from Saturnine. It is fluid, shiny and glorious

Jackie Oates's 'Saturnine': fluid, shiny and glorious

Saturnine means to be hard, impermeable, gloomy and dull. Thudding, even. The word quite literally means to be like lead. It is an odd choice of album title for a record which is none of those things. Jackie Oates’s fourth studio album is, in fact, a collection of songs forged in traditional foundries (if we’re going in for metallic analogies) - lyrics pinched from anthologies of ancient peasant ditties; tunes passed on orally or reclaimed by Oates and her confederate folkies with skills passed down through the generations. Lead might be more malleable than other metals, but the material this record is made of is fluid, shiny and glorious.

The soaring purity of Oates’s vocals washes through the songs leaving them like clean streets after a bout of rain. The music might sound twinkly and plinky-plonk in places, perhaps causing some to wrinkle their noses at the saccharine overtones. But a careful listener will discover a steelier core within. The 12 dark and twisted ballads are largely about murder, violence and magical trickery. But sung in Oates’s disinfecting voice an interesting tension arises. It is the musical equivalent of seeing the purest girl-next-door you know smoking a fag.

Recorded last winter, there is something decidedly chilly about the whole album. In the cover sleeve Oates explains that the title refers to the “prevailing mood and the approach of the ‘Saturn return’ phenomenon [in astrology]; promising a turning point or change”. Highlights include “Poor Murdered Women”, on which Oates plays a shruti box and brother Jim Moray’s vocals feature; “Four Pence a Day”, which might be familiar if you’ve been to a few traditional singalongs; and the deliciously Gothic “Marrow Bone”, which contains the chirpy refrain “Tig-ory-ore-a-more-um/ Beware the likes of she”.

It's no wonder this lady is fast becoming one of the folk world's biggest celebrities. Admittedly the album is a bit safer than some of her older stuff, with nothing as zany as her version of The Sugarcubes' “Birthday” which featured on Hyperboreans. But it is a confident arrangement of traditional tunes, brilliantly executed and startling to hear.

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