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Sunday, June 26, 2022

OxFolk Reviews: ‘Cycle’

Ben Ray is enchanted by Lady Maisery's latest album, 'Cycle'

If I’m being honest, Lady Maisery’s new album ‘Cycle’ came as a surprise to me not because of it’s accomplishment and beauty, but because Lady Maisery have had time to get into the studio to record the album at all: in the three years since their second album, ‘Mayday’, was released, each band member has been off forging various impressive solo careers. Whilst Hannah James has been touring a solo show and collaborating with accordionist Tuulikki Bartosik, Hazel Askew has released the fantastic (and earlier reviewed) ‘In the Air or the Earth’ with her sister as The Askew Sisters, whilst Rowan Rheingans has also formed half of The Rheingans Sisters, winning a BBC 2 Radio Folk Award for Best Original Track on their latest album. Lady Maisery, then, represents a meeting point for this wide range of experience, skills and innovation- and it comes across in ‘Cycle’.

Dancing lightly from tune to tune, this beautiful collection of tracks contains echoes of all of these backgrounds- with the added magic that always occurs when good friends meet up and play music together. The interesting harmonies Rheingans has explored in The Rheingans Sisters appears in this album in tracks such as ‘Land on the Shore’, whilst Hannah James’ intricate and interesting accordion performances with Bartosik are echoed on tracks like ‘The Winter of Life.’ The beautiful vocal harmonies that Lady Maisery have become known for are prevalent on every tune on this album- their voices wind in and out of each other before fitting together in an embracing, warm patchwork of sound. If that sounds rather prosaic, I’m afraid there’s really no other way to describe their hypnotising style of harmony singing- it is enough to give the listener a shiver down their spine, and always leaves you wanting to hear more.

The tunes chosen for this album are both fascinating and telling- a mix of traditional songs and ones written by the band, they range from whimsical and intimate to, in their words, ‘a coruscating critique of post-Cameron Britain’. Whilst there are no obvious anti-Brexit hymns, the interesting choice of ‘Digger’s Song’, calling for the workers to unite for economic equality, still manages to stir the blood despite dating from 17th century Protestant radicalism. Rheingans’ beautiful tune ‘Sing for the Morning’ is a joyous celebration of the natural world, and Askew’s own setting of many traditional songs, such as her music for ‘A Father’s Lullaby’, manages to elegantly balance the song’s timeless message with Lady Maisery’s own unique style. My personal favourite track, ‘Bagpipers/Sheila’s 70’, is not only an astonishing feat of vocal ability (switching seamlessly from a slow, waltz-like air to a foot-tapping reel using solely their voices), but sums up what Lady Maisery manage to do so well together- creating a world of sound led by their voices in harmony and with instruments for accompaniment. On the album notes, Lady Maisery states that the album is their contribution to a song tradition that helps to ‘understand each other and our place in the world’. They have done more than that: ‘Cycle’ is an enchanting, absorbing addition to their already burgeoning repertoire of musical success.

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