★★★★ Northern Sky Read here.
Fresh on the tails of 2018’s excellent AWAY FROM MY WINDOW, Iona Fyfe returns with a six track release, DARK TURN OF MIND. Iona’s 2018 debut album after a series of Eps established her as one of Scotland’s finest ballad singers and rooted in the tradition while not afraid to experiment and absorb ideas. Expanding on her singing within the Doric Venacular and the Scots language of the North East, DARK TURN OF MIND features material by American writers and songs of Scottish origin that had travelled to America.
Dark Turn Of Mind is a superb song written and recorded by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, originally recorded on Gillian’s 2011, THE HARROW AND THE HARVEST album. Deftly Iona has most definitely not recorded an Americana album. Her reading of the song, swings like Gillian’s but avoids echoing any of her evocative Country drawled inflections. Iona, sounds like herself, her voice wrapping round the words like they are her own. Her pace and Rory Matheson’s tasteful piano suggest a soulful sensitive jazz ballad. Swing And Turn has more sparkle and attack, Iona and Aidan’s vocals bob and dance delightfully over the accompaniment. Aidan’s guitar and Graham Rorie’s mandolin drive the song on, Rory Matheson’s piano part is interesting too, owing more to Chris McGregor and Jazz than the Folk tradition. If I Go, I’m Goin is written and originally performed by Gregory Alan Isakov. Iona confesses, if that’s the word, to hearing it first in the soundtrack to the US David Ducovny TV show Californication. Perhaps she’ll turn to some Red Hot Chilli Peppers next. Personally I think its a strength of the Folk Tradition that no sources are off limits, so no implied apology needed. If I Go, I’m Going is an intimate reading by two perfectly measured vocalists of a wonderful song. Golden Vanity has its origins as an 17th Century ballad collected as far afield as Aberdeenshire, England, Canada and the Appalachians. Essentially a dark tale of reneged desperate promises, Iona Fyfe’s voice soars on this track, generating atmosphere, rising and falling like the sea. Let Him Sink, with its strident vocal, ringing piano and florishes of guitar, in feel and arrangement reminded me of June Tabor or Joni Mitchell’s Blue. There is space around those huge emotional piano notes and Iona’s singing and everything shines.
Little Musgrave is an a capella version of this classic folk ballad. Iona’s version is an amalgam of Jeanne Robertson’s Little Musgrave and a version from Cecil Sharp’s English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. Many like me, might be more familiar with the 17th Century song and story as Matty Groves. Versions and variations exist by Frankie Armstrong, Joan Baez, Fairport Convention, Christy Moore and more recently Alela Diane. Iona’s version is rythmic and hypnotic, her wonderful voice carries the tune and words perfectly with some fine flourishes.
DARK TURN OF MIND demonstrates the restless searching of Iona Fyfe. The voice is the same and she gets inside the songs she has collected together here. What is also interesting and a credit to Iona is how different this sounds to 2018’s AWAY FROM MY WINDOW and how she and the players have made the material their own. The beauty of interpreters of song, is that they encourage the seeking out of originals and other versions, DARK TURN OF MIND has led me to Gregory Alan Isakov and reconnected to Gillian Welch, hopefully it will work the other way too for Iona Fyfe.