Brigid Mae Power: The Two Worlds review – poised and ornate

Fri, Feb 9, 2018, 05:00

   
 

Album:
The Two Worlds

Artist:
Brigid Mae Power

Label:
Tompkins Square

Genre:
Singer / Songwriter

If there are two worlds, as the title of Brigid Mae Power’s third album suggests, then she’s from a sparsely populated dimension of windy cliffs, tall trees and log cabins.

The Galway singer-songwriter’s third album encapsulates a romantic vision of rustic, pastoral terrain. The rest of us might currently traverse an increasingly digital universe, but here’s a record drained of all beeps, blips, electronics and studio trickery.

Lots of acoustic musicians do the same, of course, but few can maintain either the chilly sense of isolation or epic sweep of Power’s best numbers. Press play on The Two Worlds and hear her stretch and deform the “folk” tag like it’s a melted plastic spork.

Music like this is why we lionise remote, godforsaken cabins as fertile ground for songwriters. We picture these structures as silent sanctuaries where artists open up their chest cavity and look deep within.

Or maybe some of us even fool ourselves into believing they are sanctified arenas – a place where spiritual intervention can be channelled through an acoustic guitar in a way that’s unachievable among the noise and dissonance of big-city living. These folk-ers go that deep.

Power’s The Two Words wasn’t quite forged in a cabin in the woods à la Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, but it was recorded in Analogue Catalogue, a completely digital-free studio in Co Down. Turns out, the hideaway was a grand setting for capturing ethereal, rural ambience.

Stylistic cousins

Co-produced by Power and her husband Peter Broderick, the piano chords echo out as though being gently caressed in a cold, damp, darkened room. The acoustic guitars hiss and creak like they were found disintegrating in an old shed.

If you’re looking for Power’s stylistic cousins, the textured, trembling tones of Joanna Newsom and Marissa Nadler are close, yet the Irishwoman casts her own distinct form.

This is a set of songs that are poised, ornate and play nicely on the ear. The gently embraced frets and caressed fiddles of On My Own With You are tranquil and soothing; the piano ballad Is My Presence In The Room Enough For You? is chilling enough to lower your blood temperature a degree. On all 10 tracks, Power’s voice is rich, smoky and carries a soulful poignancy.

Take So You’ve Seen My Limit, which portrays a relationship at its most mindf**king (“There’s a truth not expressed/ But I don’t have my finger on it yet”).

Helping to capture the sentiment is Power’s unusual piano playing. The ivory tinkles are offbeat and twisted. Matched with the singer’s smooth but forceful falsetto, the song carries a friction appropriate for its subject matter without ever being off-putting.

Setbacks

Elsewhere, the stripped bare Down On The Ground has the instant familiarity of a guitar riff and melody you’ve probably heard a thousand times before, but that doesn’t make it any less pretty to listen to, particularly with Power’s soft vocal echoing up top. There’s a swagger to dressing in well-worn threads and making them work this well.

The record has some setbacks. The title track is totally inoffensive but lacks form and direction. Closing song Let Me Go Now gives Power a decent vocal workout but with just an accordion and very little else propelling the orchestration, it doesn’t leave much of an impression.

The highlight, though, is Don’t Shut Me Up (Politely). Folk, of course, has a rich history as a form of protest music. Here, Power – partially inspired by a move back to Ireland and what she felt was the “repressive and oppressive environment” of Galway – coolly and directly puts up a forceful, no bullshit female empowerment anthem to score everything from Repeal The Eighth activism to the #MeToo movement. Or maybe just a theme for any woman whose voice has ever been marginalised or shouted over.

“You would try to convince me that I was somebody,” sings Power. “Somebody that I’m definitely not.” Over the chugging guitar chords and beating bodhrán drums, Power sounds like she’s standing on a cliff edge, willing the relentless force of the crashing waves to retreat and fold back into the sea. That’s the song’s indomitable weight.

Transfer it on to an old C90 cassette tape and press play when striding through the boggy moors.