Sunday, January 22, 2012

LAURA J MARTIN The Hangman Tree

In June 2010 I wrote about Laura J Martin for this esteemed organ when she only had one single to her name. By the end of 2011 that had risen to three singles. Now, on possibly one of the most depressing days of the year, comes her debut album on Static Caravan. “The Hangman Tree” bundles three songs from those singles - the title track being one of them - into this sixteen-song flighty folk odyssey that is the perfect antidote for lifting spirits flagging with the January blues.

If you are familiar with the singles you will know to expect: intricately arranged, jaunty folk-jazz excursions, mixing eastern vibes and a percussive, soulful swing, all powered by flute, mandolin, xylophone or piano with Martin’s vocals switching from child-like (but never infantile) innocence to breathy sultriness. What you might not expect is how far-ranging these excursions go in their allusive, magical story-telling – from deserts to Morecombe Bay to Japan – and aided by some curious collaborations and pairings.

‘Spy’ is a delightful blend of Lalo Schifrin espionage soundtrack with savage Ted Hughes bird of prey imagery in a tale about a careless ninja. The sparse mandolin and girly-voiced folk whimsy of ‘Tom’ sounds as though it was plucked from a Trunk reissue of an obscure 70s children's TV show music if a lyrical reference to “Superman 3” didn’t give it away. ‘Silent Maria’ turns harpsichord elegance and clockwork winding noises into a one-Mississippi counting song. ‘Jesse’, a song about a murderer, alternates clip-clop rhythms and piano with a serene string passage; the equally rhythmic ‘Fire Horse’ tells the tale of 17th century Japanese arsonist Yaoya Oshichi complete with hand-claps and more of that exceptional flute-playing. These odd-couple/inventive collisions are followed through with her guest collaborators. A duet with Euros Childs on the dusty ‘Salamander’, all quivering tension, halting piano and a kazoo solo, may not be a surprise but sparring with granite-voiced Canadian rapper Buck 65 on ‘Kissbye Goodnight’ is.

In its scope and strange story-telling, “The Hangman Tree” reminds me of a richly illustrated book of fairy stories, exotic and slightly magical, blending innocence with darkness hidden in corners and unexpected places - and is utterly beguiling. This time last year Static Caravan released Hannah Peel’s “The Broken Wave”, another inventive album by a solo female multi-instrumentalist with Liverpool connections and an impressive address book. Twelve months on, Laura J Martin trumps that excellent record with her debut and may just provide the Birmingham label with a commercial as well as critical success.

Spy by Laura J Martin

Laura J Martin The Hangman Tree [BUY]

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