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KARINE POLWART "Faultlines" Neon Records NeonCD005

This album surely marks Karine Polwart as one of Scotland's best singer-songwriters. These eleven songs, with their edgy, metaphor-laden lyrics, are a fascinating exploration of 'all of the tricky stuff' between people - light years away from her Malinky/Battlefield Band recordings. Scottish tradition is hauled right up to the present - and you can't pin a label on it. This is cool, contemporary music, fusing Polwart's folk roots with strong elements of jazz, country, indie and pop - and it all feels timeless. Her imagination seems fired by that 'hidden history' (those 'darker' themes of violence, loss, betrayal, human weakness) behind much traditional Scottish song; also by her professional work with vulnerable groups.

Polwart's confident, mature song writing is bolstered by simple, direct, almost Rusbyesque delivery, and is consistently underpinned by strong arrangements. Brother Steven Polwart's guitar & banjo playing positively sparkles (and his beefed up electric guitars are excellent on several tracks); Corrina Hewat's glorious electro-harp shimmers throughout like a sky full of stars; Mattie Foulds & Kevin McGuire provide robust yet sensitive percussion and double bass. And a host of Scotland's finest step in to lend support - Aidan O'Rourke, Emily Smith, Phil Bancroft, Doug Duncan, Julian Sutton . it's a magnificent line-up.

These are superb songs. The jazz-laden bass and muted trumpet of the opener, Only One Way, meld seamlessly with fiddle and harp. In Skater Of The Surface, calypso rhythms jostle with shimmering electro-harp, trumpet, melodeon, and sax - very e2k! Hewat magically weaves her own Harder To Walk Jig into one of Polwart's compositions. On Resolution Road, banjo, fiddle and melodeon sit so easily with haunting tenor sax and exquisite vocal harmonisation. Azalea Flowers, with its strong percussion and electric guitar, reveals that darker edge to Polwart's song writing. The slower songs, including Faultlines, Waterlily, and the exceptionally beautiful The Light On The Shore threaten to overwhelm - and the lyrics completely disarm! This is a beautifully crafted album.

Debbie Koritsas

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This album was reviewed in Issue 55 of The Living Tradition magazine.