This sparky and enchanting mixed-heritage (ie. Welsh and American!) duo (Emily Williams and Rebecca Sullivan) are, four albums on, still purveying their special brand of quirky acoustic magic that’s been variously compared (and not only by me!) to the Be Good Tanyas, Pooka, Abbie Lathe and Indigo Girls. Ember’s sound is defined by the piquant combination of the girls’ striking and intuitive vocal harmonies and their sparse but considered instrumental work, elements which together create their own magical world where feelings are conveyed with depth and sensitivity yet often also with an edgily whimsical sense of humour. Ember songs may more than nod at home-grown nu-folk, acid-folk and old-time Americana, with an occasional touch of jazz or western swing, but they retain their own distinctive and quite idiosyncratic voice.
The fine batch of new songs here, couched in admirably simple (yet at times mildly enigmatic) poetry, mostly express romantic desires (and the potential and actual complications arising there-from), exceptions being the neo-traditional confessional of A Murder Song and the quite heartfelt little political rant from Rebecca’s Utah hometown (Nickel And Dime)! There’s also a traditional Welsh song A Ei Di’r Deryn Du and an acappella Blood And Gold (using Andy Irvine’s version). As well as their characteristic, naturally inventive intertwining vocal harmonies, Rebecca and Emily again display their wiry and subtly virtuosic instrumental skills (on guitars, violin, clarinet and harmonica), but on this new CD they’re ably augmented, principally by “world percussionist” Job Verweijen (who significantly contributes to the textures throughout) and guitarist/pianist/whistle player Dylan Fowler. Five other musicians, including bass player Nathan Thomson, are brought in at times, but there’s never any sense of overkill, and it’s all managed with supreme clarity of studio focus, to the extent that the girls’ unique, intimate charm remains upfront and beautifully intact throughout the exercise.
This new album contains some fine songs and spine-tingling performances; in particular, I loved Emily’s Far From Home and Better Than Me, Rebecca’s Northern Wind and her catchy and rousing Spade And The Hoe, also the joint composition, which closes the disc (the economic Bad Guy Lullaby). A word of praise too for the environmentally-conscious digipack presentation and its attractive design and photography (I specially liked the cheeky faux-Winterset look of the booklet’s sepia-tinted parlour-portrait!). Open All The Doors will, if there’s any justice in this world, do just that for Ember, for in my book they’re currently one of the most captivating of the more independent-minded acts on the wider folk/acoustic circuit.