Based in Newcastle (fertile ground for great music right now), they are Bridie Jackson – lead vocals, guitar & piano, Carol Bowden – percussion & vocals, Jenny Nendick – cello/double-bass and Rachel Cross – violin & vocals. It’s been a busy time for Bridie Jackson and the Arbour over the last few years, with two albums (“Bitter Lullabies” followed by “New Skin”), UK tours and lots of airplay on radio. Playing at Glastonbury in 2013 was a much-deserved milestone.
How to describe their music? Alt.folk? Chamber folk? We could play the label game all day. Add in gospel, jazz, blues… but they are so much more than any label could capture. This single release is the enticing tease for the coming third album.
This band’s songs often contain toe-tapping hooks that make you want to play along on air cello/violin, and “Far From The Tree” (Side A) hooks you in straightaway. Bridie has imagined a scenario wherein a child is very unlike their parents – in fact, the opposite of that old adage, ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’. Not afraid to do the unexpected, it doesn’t go back to the catchy hook but changes tack, becoming dreamier, with luscious harmonies. All the while, Bridie’s voice is another exquisite instrument.
Bridie composed “Final Lullaby” (Side B) for a massed choir to perform as part of a Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration. Its inspiration was Kindertransport, a rescue mission that took thousands of Jewish children away from their families in Europe and Nazi persecution in the turbulent period leading up to World War II, bringing them to Britain for a new life. Here, we have the ying and yang of dark, melancholy strings and a crystal-clear voice floating somewhere in the air above, taking us to the light….ending with “and you’re still here”.
In supreme command of her voice, Bridie knows when to be prayer-soft and when to let go. It’s a voice that I always feel is telling me the truth. And the truth is that beauty and pain are constant bedfellows. Artwork for their album, “New Skin” shows an arrow piercing a mighty stag, an image speaking of grandeur and loss. In the midst of our pain, somehow, joy rises to the surface. This is what this band makes you feel. And no-one does it better.
Both these songs are beautiful and honest – a straight arrow through the heart, where emotions have nowhere to hide. Sometimes, we are wounded and we stray too far from the tree. But we’re still here.
(Released digitally on 13th April, 2015)