owl service and alison o’donnell

The Owl Service and Alison O’Donnell ‘fabric of folk’ (static caravan). What can we say – absolutely exquisite. We don’t know what beans the Static Caravan crew eat these days but whatever they are they’re working full tilt. This babe has been sat on the catalogue listing for a fair while now with no sign in sight of it ever appearing. We thought this was destined to be one of those mythical releases that in years to come when the greater listening public had finally caught up with the rest of us and hailed this imprint with the affection it deserves would be the subject of whispers with pained incredulous expressions passing between folk in quietly shaded corners of country pubs. But then we are taking about the Owl Service here, an ensemble built about the indelible and peculiar talent of Steven Collins, whose releases you suspect are recorded and left to cask until mature before being allowed to breath and saturate the lucky few who happen by their often ridiculously limited outings. The bands album ’a garland of song’ – initially an ultra limited 100 only CD via Hobby Horse is due for repress and re-issue on Southern this month and is sure to open the band up to a more wider fan base. This particular release is best described as mutual meeting of minds for it sees Collins and Co hooking up with Alison O’Donnell of the legendary folk rock ensemble Mellow Candle whose sole 1972 full length ’swaddling songs’ has in recent years been re-appraised as a lost classic and assumed a rekindled cult status similar to that shared by the likes of Drake, Dalton and Bunyan. The album incidentally is shortly to be repackaged, remastered and issued by See for Miles. 2006 saw O’Donnell re-united with former Mellow Candlers Dave Williams and Frank Boylan for the quietly acclaimed ‘mise agus ise’ set. Through a social networking site both O’Donnell and Collins expressed admiration for each others work and soon plans were afoot for a collaboration the result of which culminates in this delectable 5 track EP entitled ‘the fabric of folk’. The musical chemistry between the duo is breathless, observers of Collins earlier releases should not be surprised as to how at ease he is at peeling back the years to apply a timeless craft that sounds for all the world as though its just tripped out of 60’s folk commune, lest we forget that with ‘a garland of song’ he in his own words hoped to touch on the magic and mystery of Fairport Convention’s career defining ‘liege and lief’. Apologies there’s no track listing available here save for the two original cuts ‘the wooden coat’  

and ‘the fabric of folk’ (the other three tracks made up of two traditional reworkings and an instrumental interlude which takes the cue for a nimbly worked slice of lazy eyed rustics deftly set to a twinkling music box motif), in fact we’re not even sure when its pencilled for release let alone exactly how many will be kicking about. Safe to say one of the Vans of the year. ‘the wooden coat’ opens the set, a gorgeously consuming cut that disturbing freewheels between the macabre and the enchanting, chilling and disarming this darkly shaded beauty assumes an unerring sense of slow unwinding dread tension, O’Donnell’s butterfly like delivery shimmers and seduces melding mercurially to craft out a hazily intoxicating supernatural brew under which softly bathed washes of delicately drizzled psyche fuse ominously into arabesque mirages soaked in hypnotic gaelic charms. Next up the first of those brace of traditional recalibrations, sorry I’m no good at sourcing these things – is an uptempo and breathlessly breezy affair rich with the air of the idyllic quilted landscapes of Ireland, this lightly toed ditty braided by the delicious dusting of flirtatious fiddles may well strike a familiar resonating chord to those among you much admiring of Mike Oldfield’s ‘crises’ set. Though its on the second traditional reworking and the closing ‘the fabric of folk’ wherein the true beauty of O’Donnell’s vocals comes to the fore as it sweetly skips through scales on the former with carefree folly while on the latter the willowy cast adrift parting shot, a divinely woven portion of piano led shy eyed sophistication is teasingly tailored, a beautiful sweetly bitter love note of a ballad lushly decoded with floral fancies sweetly cradling the twin tracked lily hops of O’Donnell’s entrancing intonations, adorably affecting, genteel and an prime example if ever you needed one of an exquisitely traded artistry illuminating and touching the darkest of depths. An absolute must have release. http://www.staticcaravan.org

september 2008

 

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