Abbie Lathe’s contribution to Bib & Tuck, Maddy Prior And The Girls’ excellent album of 2002, was the first real heads-up on this major new talent on the block. Lathe’s engaging vocals, mature multi-instrumentalism (guitar, piano, low whistle, percussion) and songwriting facility made their mark on that album and feature in spades on this, her debut CD for Park Records.
Happily for those of us with an over-sensitive New Age meter, the album’s contents belie the wifty-wafty potentiality lurking in its title. Lathe’s songs (seven of the thirteen tracks) are intelligent and observational and though a certain sense of spirituality pertains, it’s a grounded view balanced by some upbeat, hooky numbers and a couple of highly original reworkings of traditional songs. Her expressive, contemporary voice is a real treat, whether alone or multi-tracked in haunting harmonic layers, something of a speciality here.
Though musically Lathe could easily carry an album on her own, there’s lovely interplay and lush ensemble arrangements from guest musicians Martin Brunsden (double bass, mandolin, musical saw), Jane Griffiths (violin/viola), Tony Poole (12-string guitar) and John Spiers (melodeon). The traditional Lady Franklin’s Lament (aka Lord Franklin) emerges as a sonorous orchestral march, Gail Collins/Felix Pappalardi’s Two Island Swans (One Last Cold Kiss) as a heart-wrenching piano/violin duet, Paul Weller’s English Rose as a bowed bass and heavenly choir-driven paean to love. Her own songs range wide from the pastoral (Curlew) and personal (the catchy Runaway) to the eco-political (Avebury) and mythical (Man On The Hill), and stand with the best.
– Mel McClellan