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Lizzie Nunnery and Vidar Norheim - Black Hound Howling

  by Richard Lewis

published: 12 / 10 / 2012

Lizzie Nunnery and Vidar Norheim - Black Hound Howling
Label: Redthread
Format: CD


Politically aware and musically innovative collaboration between highly acclaimed Liverpool-based playwright/folk singer Lizzie Nunnery and Wave Machines multi-instrumentalist Vidar Norheim

The second album by highly acclaimed playwright/folk singer Lizzie Nunnery sees her collaborate on an equal footing with multi-instrumentalist Vidar Norheim of much-admired alt pop group Wave Machines. Finding a sound roughly midway between the folk roots of Lizzie’s 2010 debut LP ‘The Company of Ghosts’ and Wave Machines’ percussive propulsion, the album’s eclectic instrumental palette acts as a backdrop to Lizzie’s politically aware lyrics. A collection with a distinct thread running throughout, the apocalyptic imagery of the title is juxtaposed with present worries about capitalism, politics and the nature of fame, a vivid reflection on contemporary affairs. Opening with the twilight gloom of ‘Evensong’, Lizzie’s Lancastrian tones, which are accompanied by a monastic choir, boldly opens the album with one of the darkest cuts present. The rhythmic thud of ‘Five Thousand Birds’ backed with vibraphone and Peruvian percussion instrument the Cajon, along with the title track’s Hitchcockian strings courtesy of the Liverpool Session Orchestra, highlights the songwriting pair’s deft arrangements, maximising the spare instrumentation. In keeping with the folk tradition of matching storytelling with politically-tinged narratives, Lizzie’s voice is understandably high in the mix throughout, able to simply boss the songs, making the most of the predictably brilliant lyrics. The pinnacle of the set is reached midway through as the short icy blasts of the opening brace of tracks gives way to a suite of baroque pop headed up by the ukulele-led ‘Plucking the Stars’. The change in mood is startling, yet given Lizzie’s background as a playwright known for her ability to create atmosphere understandable. ‘Tread Lightly’ co-written with China Crisis stalwart Gary Daly who also guests is an absolute gem, the lush instrumentation reminiscent of ‘The Sensual World’- era Kate Bush, an entirely successful foray into pop music territory. ‘Cherry Blossom’ is the most radical departure here, the easy listening/jazz backdrop and spoken-word delivery the sonic equivalent of Don Draper attending a night of beat poetry at The Gaslight Cafe, Greenwich Village. The cautionary tale ‘Don’t Put Your Life on the Stage’ (“Don’t sell your name/To harpies who’d make stories of your pain”) a topic none more relevant in an era of 24/7 celeb bilge, underpinned by pizzicato strings, military drum tattoo and repeated title refrain is another highlight. The personal politics of the lyrics are almost always present yet never forced, the pointed ‘Don’t Look to Me’ concerning politicians who shrug off complaints addressed to them about the state of the nation being the most explicit example. Concluding with lead single ‘Poverty Knocks’, a modern-day sea shanty rendered on a huge canvas by the lush instrumentation and the Liverpool Socialist Singers, the track is a fitting choral finale. A superb synthesis of lyrical inventiveness, musical innovation and superb arrangements, 21st Century unease has rarely sounded this good.

Track Listing:-
1 Evensong
2 Five Thousand Birds
3 Black Hound Howling
4 Sand
5 The Cold Has Come
6 Plucking the Stars
7 Tread Lightly
8 Cherry Blossom
9 Don't Put Your Life On the Stage
10 Twisting On the Breeze
11 Don't Look to Me
12 Poverty Knocks

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