Unpopular advent 2019 – Day 2

Burd Ellen – ‘Sweet Lemany’ from ‘Silver Came’ LP

One of the pieces that comprises Alula Down’s beguiling ‘Three Ravens and Three Small Birds’ is a reading of ‘Sweet Lemeny’ that beautifully pares the song down to the sparest of lines, deftly repeated as if in a lullaby. Burd Ellen, by comparison, deliver a much more traditional take on the song (presented as ‘Sweet Lemany’, after Peter Bellamy) on their super ‘Silver Came’ set. Yet if Burd Ellen follow more traditional song structures they also, like Alula Down, strip those songs back to the barest of musical ingredients.

Whilst Burd Ellen is essentially the nom de guerre of Debbie Armour, she is supported on ‘Silver Came’ by Lucy Duncan and Gayle Brogan, both of whom provide accompaniment with their voices and a variety of instruments. It would be pushing things significantly to suggest these additional voices and instruments ‘flesh out’ the recordings though, for sublime restraint is key here. Space is the vital ingredient, into which the musical elements can breathe and suggested spirits inhabit. A softly gleaming sorrow sifts through the entirety of ’Silver Came’, in which the shadows carry more subtle depths of pleasure than the edges picked out in sharp, pristine light. Those shadows layer on themselves in obfuscating mystery, yet remain so close to transparency that they are all but invisible: drifts of morning mist that dissipate as soon as they are touched, giving way to strangely homely chills and yet more uncertainty beyond.

If all that sounds monstrously full-of-itself, then rest assured that ‘Silver Came’ is never that, and perhaps all we need really say is that ’Sweet Lemany’ is six and a half minutes of voices sweetly mingling atop harmonium notes that sustain into drones to provide a succinct but surreal framing device. It is certainly a highlight in a record full of such splendid moments, each pulling at the other to draw out ‘Silver Came’ into one of the most darkly appealing pieces of contemporary psych-folk you are likely to hear for some time.

And if ‘Silver Came’ appeals, then can I suggest you also check out Lucy Duncan’s lovely ‘Wisps’ collection (recording as Luki) from December 2018 and Gayle Brogan’s numerous releases as solo artist Pefkin and as part of Barrett’s Dottled Beauty and Meadowsilver.

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