Fairport’s original female singer lasted just one album with the group before going on to collaborate with McDonald, Giles, Giles & Fripp then form Trader Horne (with Jackie McAuley), shortly after which she spent some years away from music; over the past few years she’s returned, with a series of enchanting and stimulating solo records on which she’s had the benefit of support from a number of world-class musicians. These records have invariably had in common a purposeful quality in the lyrics, while the musical idiom has ranged through folk-prog and gentle psych to jazzier, more avant-garde climes, with 2010’s fine Talking With Strangers persuasively marrying folk and avant-garde. Flow And Change shifts the musical ambit onto chamber-folk, predominantly piano-based with sensitively textured string arrangements, although album opener Black Dog Dreams provides (at any rate musically) more of a bridge from Judy’s previous albums with its ghostly psych-prog effects (recalling early Pink Floyd or King Crimson) and brightly menacing aura. And of course, reintroduces us to Judy’s trademark unmistakable vocals, as coolly sensual as ever. The ensuing pair of lusciously scored songs (Featherdancing and Beautiful Child) exemplify the album’s title (and what might be regarded its central theme of progression through life), the initial hindsight-inflected childhood reminiscence of Featherdancing giving way to a realism-tinged lullaby (Beautiful Child) that with its carefully worded hopes and warnings links to the edgy, scratchy, skittering, splintered electronica of the darkling ode to Crowbaby. Then Driftaway does just that as we’re lulled (with our Head Full Of Stars) into a temporary respite, a throwback or calmer but deceptive interlude of sorts before the gloomy, desperate melancholy of Silence and Letters, a plaintive correspondence between potential (and likely unrequitable) lovers which is effectively voiced as a duet with Counting Crows’ Matt Malley. Time passes, and the season flows and changes with the rather sad Wintersong expressing the ethereal delicacy of memory (to a lovely, if mournful horn-infused backdrop). The song-cycle concludes with the epic The Sisterhood Of Ruralists, which transports us back to the mystical world of the late 60s, almost evoking that early Fairport album (and Principal Edwards Magic Theatre) in its mystical, slightly theatrical evocation of the seductive power of nature and its inspiring of artists, the lyric ostensibly conjuring an imaginary collective but with phrases like “glowing in each tiny artpiece see the love that’s shining there” it’s hard not to think that it more closely reflects the lovingly crafted booklet illustrations (principally the work of Catherine Hyde and Jackie Morris) that in turn so closely mirrors those qualities (and key textures) within Judy’s writing. The track – and thus the whole album – does however seem to end a touch abruptly… All that remains is for me to pay honourable mention to Judy’s musician friends who grace the album with their presence – especially singling out her producer and co-writer Alistair Murphy. Flow And Change is a maturely crafted treasure of an album, and may well fast come to be regarded as Judy’s finest yet.
Folk and Roots Aug 2013