When four rising female talents of the English Folk scene combined their considerable musical skills and started performing together as The Magpies, it was only a matter of time before a debut album was released. Now fully-fledged and road-tested, that debut is upon us, and what a treat 'Tidings' is.
Formed in 2019 – with roots going back to 2017 – The Magpies consist of Bella Gaffney on vocals and guitar, Polly Bolton on vocals, mandolin, banjo, and bouzouki, Holly Brandon on vocals and guitar, and Sarah Smout on vocals and cello. Utilising their talents to the full, the foursome blends four-part harmonies, traditional tunes, and original material to create their own unique sound.
‘Two Magicians’ is a classic traditional song about a magical tale of lust that’s deftly handled here and revived by tight vocals and a jaunty arrangement. Similarly, the traditional instrumental ‘Catharsis’ is also given new life by the blistering marriage of instrumentation all underpinned by the cello work, which, at times, hints at a deeper classical influence.
The ghostly folk ballad ‘Golden Girl’ with its vivid imagery shows that creative songwriting is at the core of the band. So too does the deceptively sweet-sounding tale of love and murder ‘Run River Run’.
Another stand out original ‘No More Tears’ with its haunting harmonies hints at an Appalachian influence in the music, while the mesmerising cover of Gillian Welch’s ‘Rock Of Ages’ embraces the genre with renewed vigour. The often covered ‘Galway Shawl’, is presented here in a more organic and less sentimental arrangement that favours the composition. Closing the album, ‘Balls To The Wall’ is a musical tour-de-force that takes the listener on a journey through Celtic, Americana, and Eastern folk.
Beautiful harmonies, exquisite genre-crossing musicianship, and the blend of traditional and original material make ‘Tidings’ a work of sheer beauty.