Dorothy Daniel’s voice is clearly going to be the star of this show; all bluesy and resonant, backed by swampy guitar. However, we get more of a compelling sound and a feeling than a complex narrative.
Holding The Bag takes an unexpected turn, pivoting that powerful voice towards a slow cajón and accordion number, but there’s a sense that repetition overshadows development of the concept. Later, rhyming serves much the same function in Love Conquers War, distracting somewhat from a rich and smooth vocal.
The Road is the bluesiest song yet with a steady beat and a drop D rumble to add to the atmosphere. It shows considerable promise but generalities prevent it from reaching the complexity that the music suggests it is capable of: “there is a road/we gotta walk it/can’t get off it/until the day is done.” It’s not clear whether it’s a real or metaphorical road and with a voice and musicianship like that involved, there’s no real reason not to explore either or both possibilities more.
There’s considerable colour to Daniel’s voice in Francis but we’d like more details, yet again. The intriguing line “in the shadow of another man’s bloody war” shows that they are capable of lyrical excellence; we’d like more about *that* story.
Never Gone is a case in point. We hear that the narrator is selfish, that his “blood runs red,” and about his burial preferences, but we never really get to the crux of the real-life story about a friend’s father who hurt his loved ones in the way he chose to respond to a chronic illness. The depth and specificity of a heartbreaking and hard-hitting story is missing.
The River Is Wide picks it up with great instrumentation that matches the sentiment of the song, but “the river is wide and hard to cross” comes across like The Road redux.
The Mountain features Darrell Scott’s vocal in a call and response pattern and it suggests that a couple of blues rock duets would be perfect to go with Daniel’s stunning voice.
Undertow is more obviously metaphorical than The River in describing a user “walking around like a hungry ghost” but there’s clunkiness in some of the phrasing, especially “now the truth has come to be revealed.”
Coals Glow comes the closest to success at a well-rounded story song that explores dire poverty and sactuary in dreams. More of this, please!
Maddie’s Ghost returns to form: “she’s just a good girl in a bad world doing bad things” opens up possibilities that aren’t fully explored.
Rain turns a nursery rhyme back into a folk song. It’s sonically interesting with two voices in the mix, but it falls down with repetition of the concept of falling down.
In topic, tone and imagery this record could be from the Civil War or earlier. They do what they do very well, and if you want a rich sound then this record can’t be faulted. It’s even more impressive when you learn that their prior experience was in acoustic music, and that the album was recorded over just three days with a live full band setup for some songs. We hear a lot of fabulous music, delivered excellently, and that’s what makes it frustrating that we haven’t learned much.
In interviews, Daniel speaks movingly about a childhood scarred by trauma but the songs she lends her talents to don’t tend to go beyond affirmations in order to explore the complexities of either real life or narrative fiction.
The husband and wife duo that make up the band were high school sweethearts who ran into each other after five years apart and got married within four months of that chance meeting. Now there’s a story! A song about that, or anything else that feels real, would have more impact than another journey metaphor, however conceptually meaningful.
It’s a new release but we’re already itching to hear the next record to find out if they will come down from the mountain, cross the river, and explore new ground.
Shine is out now. Photos by Boudica Photography.