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Madison Violet - The Knight Sessions

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 8 / 5 / 2017

Madison Violet - The Knight Sessions
Label: Big Lake Music
Format: CD


Fantastic hook-laden eighth album from Canadian duo Madison Violet which mixes new songs with reimagined acoustic versions of older tracks

For their eighth album Canadian duo Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac reimagine some of their earlier songs (there are five from the duo’s last album, ‘The Year of the Horse’) and also present a handful of new songs too. Since the duo’s first album in 2002 they have been on a journey of sorts musically. Although they’ve in the main been considered as part of the Americana genre they’ve dipped their toes into many different forms of music. Pop, folk, country and, more recently, electronics have all informed their music making it difficult and refreshing to place them in any one genre. Always at the core of their music though are their voices; they harmonise beautifully and while Brenley’s vocals occasionally reveal a rough edge when the pair sing together that magic happens. For the stripped-back, organic sound that they wanted for this collection of songs Brenley and Lisa paid a visit to a few pawn shops in Toronto in the hope that their travels would find old electronics, discarded children’s toys and unusual or broken instruments in need of a little care. Wooden blocks and ukuleles with broken strings were discovered and make an appearance on these songs. But don’t get the impression that this is a lo-fi collection of songs; while there are undoubtedly some unusual sounds on offer here the songs are of Madison Violet’s high standard and those voices really do not need any further embellishment anyway. With the current success of Ward Thomas it’s something of a mystery as to why ‘These Ships’ didn’t make a bigger impression than it did when it was released previously. The song is catchier than the common cold; Brenley’s gritty vocals pull the listener in immediately while Lisa’s sweeter vocal contributions compliment Brenley’s perfectly. If Ward Thomas can command radio play (and sales) with similar music then what happesn here? The song is simply irresistible and is featured on ‘The Knight Sessions’ in two versions; an acoustic take which really showcases just how talented this duo is vocally and a TZ mix, which was probably aimed at turning the song into a more club-friendly track. It works well but the acoustic version wins every time; it even sounds like those involved in the recording had more fun with the acoustic take. It would be impossible not to like the song in any form as it’s so addictive, and it’s interesting to have two versions to compare to show that Madison Violet are more than a one-trick pony. ‘We Are Famous’, the opening cut, also has a chorus that once heard is impossible to forget; the sparse backing serves to highlight just how perfect Brenley and Lisa’s vocals are. In a perfect world both ‘We Are Famous’ and ‘These Ships’ would be playing from radios everywhere. But if those two songs show Madison Violet at its most poppy then ‘The Heat’, although still hook-laden, displays a darker side; there are interesting sounds floating around the song; but once more it’s the combination of Brenley’s slightly gravelly vocals with Lisa’s angelic tones that grabs you. ‘Same Sun’ from the last album,’The Year of the Horse’, is presented here in an acoustic version. It’s riveting how these songs take on not only a new lease of life in stripped-back form but how they actually create more atmosphere when left to a minimum of instruments and those voices. Again this acoustic version wins over the more familiar one. ‘Ohio’ also from the last album has a warmer, more intimate feel to it here and the harmonies are just amazing. If there’s one track that falls short then it’s ‘Hush’ based on the traditional lullaby ‘Hush, Little Baby’. The vocals are once more faultless but it feels like it was included just to prove that the duo are capable of taking unexpected twists and turns. In some ways it disrupts the flow of the album; it would have sounded more at home on the recent album from Shel. It’s a perfect performance but just sounds out of place here. When there are totally original songs such as ‘Don’t Let Your Heart Be Troubled’ that also has a slightly quirky backing (although not on the same scale as the aforementioned song), the evidence is there that Madison Violet really don’t have to go the ‘traditional’ route no matter how inventive their reading might be. By going back to basics and taking some of their most melodic songs along for the ride Madison Violet have produced their most accessible and pleasing album to date. They will never, with the blend of those voices, their songwriting abilities (they wrote ‘Small of My Heart’, their status was assured then) and their ability to write such hook-filled songs produce just a good album. By linking so many different genres each album bearing the Madison Violet name has been nothing short of great but with just a little radio play and the upcoming UK/European dates there’s the feeling that ‘The Knight Sessions’ might just be the album that will reach the wider audience that Madison Violet so rightly deserve.

Track Listing:-
1 We Are Famous
2 These Ships
3 The Heat
4 Same Sun
5 Ohio
6 Hush
7 Don't Let Your Heart Be Troubled
8 Trouble
9 Operator
10 How We See Love
11 These Ships

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Breathtaking live album from critically acclaimed Canadian folk duo, Madison Violet
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