Sunday, 18 August 2013

Karine Polwart - Threshold

I don't normally review compilations but in this case I'll make an exception, even if it's a quick one...

Threshold is a collection of songs by one of Britain's most gifted and talented folk singers, Karine Polwart, all taken from her albums Scribbled In Chalk, Fairest Floo'er and This Earthly Spell, as well as Medusa from The-Build-Your-Own-Cathedral EP. Strangely, there is nothing from her début award-winning album Faultlines, which would have enhanced this even further. (And add the best of Polwart's latest album Traces and you'll have one of the strongest compilations of folk songs of any artist working today.)

Threshold shows many different sides of Karine Polwart, from old to new. Whereas her second and fourth albums comprise original new songs, Fairest Floo'er is traditional with new arrangements. So, both Dowie Dens Of Yarrow and The Death Of Queen Jane (with superb modern piano arrangement) are stirring, dark and powerful, matched only by the mournful messages of Medusa and the venomous Sorry, highlighting the emptiness of forgiving, through religious imagery and ideals. Elsewhere Threshold is lighter and fairer of touch. Opener Rivers Run and later Take Its Own Time are superbly arranged and performed, the former blending jolly, up-beat guitars with a reflective vocal style and some wonderful backing vocals. Daisy is simply beautiful song writing about a simple/complex soul - 'There are people in this world who don't think like you do...' is the refrain. Better Things is also excellent, a song of hopes, fears and dreams while the final trio of nostalgic Follow The Heron, The Good Years (an epic, folk-pop anthem) and Terminal Star (complete with 'surprise' ending) show Polwart's song-craft.

As a compilation, Threshold is uncluttered, well-constructed and perfectly judged. And above all it is a brilliant introduction to a folk legend.

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