16 Dec 2014

Album Review: Angeline Morrison and The Rowan Amber Mill "Silent Night Songs for a Cold Winter's Evening"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

From The Rowan Amber Mill, arguably one of the foremost and best proponents of wyrd folk currently active in the UK, comes a very welcome early festive present. With collaborator and Angeline Morrison adding winter warmth with her vocals (this paring were last heard together on the superb 'Songs From The Black Meadow' compilation), 'Silent Night Songs for a Cold Winter's Evening' is an essential companion for these dark, midwinter evenings when the shadows and cold are encroaching and a little Yule spirit is much needed.

First up is a haunting reading of 'Silent Night', which has always been one of the more eerie of the traditional carols. Appropriately, this take is candlelit, reflective and ethereal, evoking the icy ambient shimmer of Fovea Hex's work or Rose McDowall's winter solstice collaborations with Coil. Gently picked acoustic guitar is framed perfectly by xylophone and ghostly, reverbed keyboards with Morrison's vocals a revelation and utterly bewitching. Next, 'Cold Winter Morning'( a Rowan Amber Mill/ Morrison original and the highlight of the album for this listener) is a beautiful, spectral frost of a song. Glistening piano descends, dances and cascades around Morrison's gossamer vocals whilst a magical ambience curls around each note like breath on a frozen morning. This is a song that the likes of Vashti Bunyan would be proud to have written, indeed it does remind one of her 'Lookaftering' period. The traditional 'I Saw Three Ships' is a medieval procession, flute and the buzz of crumhorn providing a suitable woody backing for Angeline's intertwining vocal lines. It's at once both uplifting and otherworldly. Indeed, some of these tracks may be traditional songs or carols but they are not necessarily straightforward traditionally performed versions; with The Rowan Amber Mill there is always a delicious dose of wyrd or the more acidic variety of folk present to add a psychedelic sheen and shimmer to proceedings. 'Sleepy Woodyard' is another Stephen Stannard (the one man musical genius behind The Rowan Amber Mill) original, an instrumental of heartbreaking gorgeousness; piano, strings, choirs and slide guitar merge to form a perfect piece of pastoral prog pop. Enchanting and evocative of still, December nights there is a beautiful melancholy at play here. 'Wassail', another traditional tune arranged by the artists, is a stately evocation to the land for a plentiful harvest come the summertime. Morrison's vocals are perfection here, the backing track of guitar, harmonium and accordion fully sympathetic to the building and layering atmosphere of the song; it is yet another standout moment on an already accomplished album. To finish, an instrumental take of 'Silent Night' melts into the midnight air, winter winds beginning to howl before a distant, glistening keyboard provides a beacon of light to end.

Yuletide is a time of tradition, of ghosts and of ritual to survive the darkness until the sun returns. With this album Angeline Morrison and The Rowan Amber Mill provide all of these elements and more. Huddle closer to the fire, pull the blanket tighter and enjoy some silent night songs for a cold winter's evening.

Available now from rowanambermill.bandcamp.com as a download or as a hand numbered, handcrafted digipak limited edition (choose between either a pure white glossy digipak or a folky, buff recycled card digipak). Both versions feature a beautiful front cover illustration by Angeline Morrison.

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