Review by Dave Kidman of Rebekah Findlay’s new CD, ‘Improvising Around the Sun’
‘Improvising Around The Sun’ – Rebekah Findlay (Ted Records TEDRFCD.002)
Rebekah’s rapidly making a name for herself as one of the region’s most compelling musical personalities and her captivating live presence also translates well to disc, which is a definite bonus in this day and age where fickle tastes and superficial attention spans dominate. And what’s more, Rebekah knows how to put together a disc that will stand the test of time, for she has an acute feel for flow and texture and exactly what sounds right for each song. Rebekah’s debut, Northern Skies, was, by any standards, a pretty stunning demonstration of her many talents, with some fabulous singing, lovely songwriting, deftly idiomatic guitar work and fiery, yet sensitive, fiddle playing. These qualities are carried on through to this follow-up album, sure, but with, if anything, an even greater sense of accomplishment , while Rebekah’s astonishingly intuitive musical arrangement (that skill in getting so much from simple resources – principally her own guitar, fiddle and, occasionally, accordion with Joolz Cavell ‘s tremendously supportive cajon) is also every bit as much a feature this time around. Her singing seems even stronger too, her voice is commanding, authoritative and fearless, and yet capable of amazing degrees of tenderness when the lyric calls for that quality and shading. Rebekah tells us that the music on her new album evolved from many hours soaking up the sun in her garden improvising on her guitar around ideas for songs: hence the fancifully descriptive album title. The inspiration for several of the songs in this new collection was less the beloved Scottish climes of Northern Skies and more her own northern roots; her Hartlepool ancestry comes sharply into focus on Gray’s Lament, whose melodic contour, echoing a forlorn pibroch, traces a poignant farewell to the shipyard where her grandparents worked together (the family ties reinforced by the presence on this track of her brother, Ben, singing backing vocal). The tingling atmospherics of producer Chris Davison’s burnished electric guitar cradle Blackbird Song ( that specific birdsong represented by Rebekah’s florid fiddle counterpoint), supporting the lyric’s melancholy, flat-lined, almost numbed expression of a universal truth, while sweetly reflecting on the better times that have gone for good. The album boasts further standout tracks: the dramatic traditional-style ballad of Lonesome Hill, sung (almost chanted) to a ritual rhythm from Joolz’s cajon, provides a stark contrast to the siren call of Rhythm of the Sea (this I sense harks back to idyllic times spent on the Scottish coast), which is energised by the keen pen of Iain Mackillop’s stunning bodhran playing. And that’s just first four tracks (all self-penned), to which crucial mode of composition Rebekah returns for the disc’s closing triptych. Between these points, an improvised instrumental piece provides a bridge to three diverse non-originals: a show-stoppingly expressive, impeccably arranged cover of Tom Bliss’s iconic masterwork, The Violin, followed by the well-loved traditional song, Ten Thousand Miles, (here, inventively, set to a restless, shuffling travelling-beat) and then another live favourite – Rebekah’s interestingly different take on the Grease number, You’re the One That I Want, (bringing out its inherent pathos and discovering it’s not really the cheap throwaway number it seems on screen). Rebekah then retreats back to her own muse for the album’s final stages: Billy’s Song, a miner’s widow’s tale which sports some astounding double bass playing (Hamish Laishley) and ghostly trumpet (Kristofer Eland), followed by the comforting, though similarly resigned imagery of Winter’s Sad Refrain. Rebekah then takes her leave with the sublimely minimal Parting Lullaby, which – unusually for either of those kinds of song – takes the form of a desperate yet delicate entreaty, set to a strange meolody line resembling an oriental note-progression. Like the rest of this album, truly mesmerising – as in its own way is the intensely attractive hand-crafted artwork (by Rebekah – yes, design’s another of the many strings to her bow! – with help from her mum).