Cotton’s album renders traditional music in uncanny colours with influences from her native north-east England.
Alison Cotton has long wuthered on the wilder fringes of folk music. She played the viola in folk-rock revivalists the Eighteenth Day of May (signed to Joe Boyd’s Hannibal label) and still performs in the Left Outsides, her duo with husband Mark Nicholas, casting traditional music’s spirits and sounds in uncanny colours. Her recent solo work has been even more eerie and filmic, a mood her latest album sustains, tightly lacing her voice and harmonium around influences from her native north-east England.
The album begins with an incantation in miniature: Murmurations Over the Moor. For 77 seconds, Cotton’s vocals are layered in unison, harmoniously, then discordantly, twisting and dissembling folk scales. The Last Wooden Ship, a long piece inspired by the lost shipyards of Sunderland, follows; later, 17th November 1962 recalls a forgotten fishing-boat disaster. In both, harmonium drones suggest dying foghorns, Cotton’s voice morphing into a solemn siren of the sea.
That Tunnel Underground Seemed Neverending, inspired by old mining cultures, twists the metallic sound of viola strings into industrial echoes, then Violet May arrives like a lost Roud ballad, full of stark, slight lyrics about departing mothers and longed-for reunions that never come. It holds a deep sense of long-suffered, almost resilient loneliness.
Cotton claims Nico as an influence – and the icy textures of The Marble Index certainly lurk around her work – but strong, too, is her connection with the work of American musician Dorothy Carter, founder of the Mediaeval Baebes, whose work meshed medieval, traditional and experimental textures. Cotton may expand folk’s raw emotions into more avant garde territories, but they still feel possessed by a blood-red muscle memory that goes back centuries.
See the piece here: The Guardian