Now, before we start this review, let’s take a moment to note the name of the label here. Fellside Recordings. This long-time Cumbrian folk outpost is not the biggest of labels, but Paul and Linda Adams have a well-earned reputation for packing their catalogue with artistes of quality. Thus it was that from the get-go, I literally EXPECTED to be impressed by this debut album by Maddie Southorn, a Bristol-based singer-songwriter. And I was not to be disappointed.
Interestingly, I reviewed this album in tandem with another by Maddy Prior. Now, you might think that a bit unfair, in that Prior has one of the greatest voices BRITAIN – let alone ‘British FOLK’ - has ever produced. Yet paradoxically, I came away from the experience liking Maddie Southorn’s voice enormously. Okay so it does not have the unique vocal DNA of a Prior (whose voice does?), but it is a voice that projects both her humanity and her warmth. And a voice of a very respectable range.
The album is an interesting mix of self-penned, the traditional ballad and the occasional contemporary song. Throughout, she surrounds herself with some very tasty session musicians. When you see the names Nancy Kerr and Karen Tweed, you just have to sit up and take notice: and for me, just to see the name of multi-instrumentalist Stevie Lawrence included here, well, that proved to be the real imprimatur put on the whole recording, because Stevie only associates himself with QUALITY. Although, that said, those celebrated names apart, perhaps the two musicians that stood out most for me here were Chris James with a glimpse of some fine slide guitar playing, and some authoritative cello from Janet Martin.
As for the eleven tracks: my feelings – whilst positive – are a bit mixed. For the fact was that I clearly found her self-penned songs a little less-convincing than her interpretation of the others. Why should this be? Difficult to say. Certainly one applauds the fact that her songs represent the very antithesis of some bed-sitter, navel-gazing, angst-ridden chronicles. And one also applauds her breadth of subject matter. For instance, she kicks-off with a heck of a true story from late 16 th Century North Carolina ; and later on (in ‘Misery Point’) comes up with a tragic character who is as poignantly real as any character that the late Dennis Potter ever invented.
But put a gun to my head and FORCE me to try to say why her own songs don’t really set me on fire, and I guess I’d say that her gift for inventing melody is a tad behind her other gifts right now. But when she interprets other people’s songs: ah, then she is cooking with gas, alright! And her version of Andy M. Stewart’s ‘The Valley Of Strathmore’ truly moved me. It is the stand-out track on the CD: an album - one just senses - that may be the first of many.