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CD: Karine Polwart - Traces | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Karine Polwart - Traces

CD: Karine Polwart - Traces

Doyenne of Scottish folk discovers the personal is political on fifth album

An ambitious record dealing with politics and loss - Karine Polwart's Traces

The best music has the power to lift the listener out of whatever else she may be doing, to transport her somewhere else. I listened to Traces, fifth album from doyenne of Scottish folk Karine Polwart, in a cafe in Edinburgh in what for that city is the busiest month of the year. Outside it was raining and the pavements were crowded, but as the record expanded to fill my headphones there was space in my reality for very little else.

That being said, Traces is an album that is firmly grounded in reality - whether it's the burning political issues of contemporary Scotland or the singer's own losses. It's a hugely ambitious record with an almost cinematic quality in places, aided by the skilled production of The Unwinding Hours' Iain Cook. Elements of the Glasgow band's own epic, layered sound come into play towards the album's devastating end, a jaw-dropping departure from its gently-strummed beginnings as Polwart softly plays Farrah Fawcett on the back of Steve McQueen's motorbike.

"Cover Your Eyes", this deceptively gentle opening track, is in fact a subtle protest song against Donald Trump's controversial golf development in rural Aberdeenshire. It's not the last time Polwart dabbles in political songwriting, something steeped so fully in the folk tradition, across the album's 45 minutes either - the sweeping orchestration and beautiful imagery of "King of Birds" was in fact inspired by the Occupy movement and the symbolism of St Paul's Cathedral.

Some of the album's most powerful cuts are some of its more personal - "Strange News", in which Polwart sings of the hour immediately following the sudden death of her younger cousin, begins low-key and contemplative before building in a crescendo of harmonies and harmonium to capture the singer's sense of loss, while the melodic "Salter's Road" is a gentle eulogy to an elderly neighbour. Closing track "Half a Mile", capturing the last walk home of murdered schoolgirl Susan Maxwell, is heavy and unsettling, skilfully produced to leave its mark on the listener long after its final refrain fades out.

Hear an earlier version of album track "We're All Leaving" below

The album is firmly grounded in reality, whether it's the burning political issues of contemporary Scotland or the singer's own losses


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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