A track by track review of ‘Tidings’, the debut LP from contemporary folk quartet The Magpies. Formed in York in 2017, with four vocalists and many different stringed instruments they have drawn together influences and styles to create a rich and rewarding sound.
1. Two Magicians. A traditional song with a lyric describing the sensual shape-shifting antics of the lady and the blacksmith. Mandolin and fiddle weave sinuously around the warm vocal.
2. Catharsis. The instrumental dexterity of the first track goes straight into this gorgeous fast-paced workout. Great production and mix, the band sound like they are in your front room.
3. Run River Run. A considered meditation on the flowing of the river and the passing of time as a resolution for problems. The mid-song instrumental break is sublime.
4. Rock of Ages. A cover of Gillian Welch’s spiritual anthem, showing how the band blend aspects of americana into their sound. Hypnotic and stunningly effective.
5. Foss Island. The violin double-stopping of the introduction gives way to an instrumental that is lighter than air and makes the island of the title sound like the perfect place to be (although it seems to be an inland area near York?). The theme inverts into variations with intricate structures as the track continues.
6. No More Tears. The expression of emotion is beautifully concise here as the banjo, guitar, violin and cello gently contribute, dusted with harmony vocals and infused with the fragile atmosphere of a forgotten Woody Guthrie song.
7. Shuffle Set. It is a nicely structured collection, just when you are haunted by the previous track there is instant uplift from the synchronised playing and sparkling solos on this traditional whole band showcase.
8. Galway Shawl. The longest track on the album, it is nearly seven minutes to develop the languid and mellow feeling of this song, well known in the folk world. It is a tale of a chance meeting filled with poetic details including naming of other songs within the narrative and the repeating motif of the title garment; the descriptions are brought to life by a super vocal performance and complex layering of the instruments. Entrancing and beguiling.
9. Golden Girl. An air of mystery pervades this track, a ghostly story with of course a sad end. The violin shares the counter melody over the brooding chord sequence in this dark but affecting track.
10. Balls To The Wall. An exotic and unpredictable instrumental spectacular, with bouzouki patterns, speed changes and handclaps interweaved with folk dance tempos. An explosive finale to this excellent album.