12 Jun 2016

Jackie McDowell - New Blood Medicine

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & the Moon)

Jackie McDowell's music is a fascinating and very welcome discovery for this writer and comes courtesy of the ever splendid Wild Silence label (who are also responsible for recent essential psych folk releases by Pefkin ('Liminal Rites') and Empty Vessel Music ('There's Nobody Under The Gorse Bush'). McDowell utilises an inspired mixture of harmonium, mountain dulcimer and electronics to create an entirely unique take on the folk and psych idioms and 'New Blood Medicine' is an expertly distilled example of her vision and distinctive direction.

Opener 'In One Hand A Salt, In The Other A Seed' begins with McDowell's arresting vocals, confidently piercing the silence to be joined by the hypnotic drone and hum of her harmonium. It is at once otherworldly and hugely compelling, almost like discovering another musical language altogether. This brief introduction leads immediately into 'Thirteen Mothers Rise' which enters on a strident dulcimer melody, woodwind and layered and choral vocals which reverberate lysergically and eerily throughout the piece. Both ancient and yet also strikingly different and new, McDowell's folk music is one that is almost instinctive and intrinsic to herself and yet seems to be channelled from the earth itself; this is not the twee or gentle manufactured folk of Laura Marling and that ilk, this is the guttural, blood and spittle soaked real deal. Reference points might be the sombre and determined indifference to conformity of Nico, the earthy, powerful beauty of MacGillivray's music and the spectral landscapes of Fovea Hex. 'Hyperborea' is an intense and evocative harmonium and vocal piece that sounds like the aural equivalent of a thunderstorm; there is a dark and pleasing wildness and witchcraft in this music that is an antidote to the repetitive and often idea bereft folk mainstream. 'Tea Song' starts out almost Morricone-esque and is a defiant and stately string and organ led piece that McDowell alternately whispers and storms through, lending a dramatic tension to the song that builds and grows throughout to the point that this listener found himself holding his breath. Next, 'Stars In The Heaven' floats into being on the throb of waves of  harmonium and an ocean of glistening chimes. Almost sacred in its solemnity, the choral voices count out a twisted, haunted nursery rhyme that echoes across vast and silvery skies. The album's penultimate track 'Scrape Dirt Marrow' follows, using strummed guitar and heavily reverbed vocals to create a desert song of some immense grace and power. Percussion and organ punctuate the widescreen and atmospheric vision that the piece conjures, leading to a dramatic and breathtaking close. The album itself finishes with an unnamed track that combines the ancient with the avant garde in a cornucopia of harmonium, chiming percussion and Incredible String Band style experimentation.

Further exploration tells us that McDowell has only recently become a solo artist after previously playing with both Inez Lightfoot and Sun Cycles, but has already released several albums under her own name. Having found this slice of aural treasure, this listener is going to now explore deeper into this unique artist's discography. I highly recommend you do the same.

As always with Wild Silence releases this comes as a beautifully packaged limited edition CD and also as a download.

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