Alison Cotton has long lived on the fringes of folk music. She played viola in folk-rock revivalists The Eighteenth Day of May (signed to Joe Boyd’s Hannibal label) and still performs in the Left Outsides, her duet with husband Mark Nicholas, projecting spirits and traditional music sounds in strange colors. His recent solo work has been even more eerie and filmic, a vibe his latest album sustains, weaving his voice and harmonium tightly around influences from his native North East England.
The album begins with a miniature incantation: Murmurations Over the Moor. For 77 seconds, Cotton’s vocals overlap in unison, harmoniously, then discordantly, twisting and concealing folk scales. Follows The Last Wooden Ship, a long play inspired by the lost shipyards of Sunderland; later, November 17, 1962 recalls the forgotten disaster of a fishing boat. In both, the harmonium drones suggest dying foghorns, Cotton’s voice turning into a solemn siren of the sea.
That Tunnel Underground Semed Neverending, inspired by ancient mining cultures, transforms the metallic sound of viola strings into industrial echoes, then Violet May arrives like a lost Roud ballad, full of austere and light lyrics about leaving mothers and reunions long-awaited that never come. It contains a deep sense of long-suffered, almost resilient loneliness.
Cotton claims Nico as an influence – and the icy textures of The Marble Index certainly lurk around his work – but his connection to the work of American musician Dorothy Carter, founder of Mediaeval Baebes, whose work blended medieval, traditional, is also strong. and experimental textures. Cotton can expand people’s raw emotions into more edgy territory, but they still feel possessed by a blood-red muscle memory that dates back centuries.
Also out this month
Derek Piotr did largely left-wing electronica until he started recording his nonagenarian grandmother ten years ago, then began collecting songs from other older, neglected singers. In The Devil Knows How (self-published), he sings the old-fashioned mountain music of the late North Carolina singer Lena Bare Turbyfill, with whose family he became close. The crackling production style sometimes threatens pastiche, but Piotr’s enthusiasm is compelling. Down and Out (NTS) compiles foreign people from the UK and US private press from 1968 to 1980, much of it full of naive, world-weary beauty (the contributions of Cornish singer Brenda Wootton and Americans Bob Hughes and David Budin are particularly brilliant). Meadowsilver‘s II (self-published) also explores archaic customs through kaleidoscopic electric folk styles, sometimes expanding into visions of epic indie.