Kirsty Merryn : Our Bright Night24 04 2020
One of the key differences between good but ephemeral and great, enduring music is that the latter often conveys an impression of the performing artist as a rounded emotional presence in between the notes.
After one play through of Our Bright Night you have a clear human sense of Kirsty Merryn, and it develops further as you repeatedly listen.
Championed by Show of Hands' Steve Knightly (who featured on her track Forfarshire, which his band later covered), Merryn has already attracted a spring tide of plaudits and airplay. This is her second album, following 2017's She & I. It confirms her rare depth of character as a singer-songwriter.
Merryn's piano and immaculate vocals are central to the sound of Our Bright Night. She co-produced the album with Alex Alex, who also played guitar, bass and sang where it was needed. They have recorded a set of songs with grace and natural balance; often complex and finely textured, but still sparely arranged.
For its soul-stirring harmony, Our Bright Night warrants a track-by-track dissection.
The album opens with Twilight / Banks of Sweet Primroses; the first a poetic evocation in liminal evening light, with a snip of the border ballad Tam Lin added for good measure, the second a traditional song detailed by the skim and sweep of Phil Beer's guest fiddle. Merryn's elegant piano ties both together.
The mellow tone continues. Constantine is one of Merryn's oldest songs, written about a beach in Cornwall, bringing the place to life by sketching its history through fleeting, imagined glimpses of the events it will have witnessed. Alex Alex duets over soft, cinematic piano.
Then the pace picks up. Mary essays the loss of natural habitat to tarmac, chainsaw and pylons - delivered with a full band, it skips by with a breezy tempo framing the lyric's lament.
Upending the established male historical perspective, the title track narrates the fate of nuns evicted by Henry VIII's monastic dissolution. The tale is told over a shruti box drone, with minimal keyboard to stress the desolate mood.
Then, at the heart of the album, there is an exalting composition that maps most closely to the visual semantics of its arresting cover.
The Deep | The Wild | The Torrent is 'a celebration of the mysticism and beauty of nature', the title inspired by a passage in Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places about Ynys Enlli (a location that also prompted the magnificence of Llio Rhydderch's Enlli), the song by a twilight visit to a clearing on Jersey edged by a stand of trees that look down on a turbulent sea. The track is all echoing guitar, ambience and majesty.
Human-nature is next examined in a Child murder ballad, Outlandish Knight, where the intended victim outsmarts her pursuer on the seashore where he hoped her fate to be written. It is sung as a haunted dream.
A low-key melody underpins Little Fox, a piano / voice / percussion love song of striking immediacy.
Sam Kelly, seemingly a fine quality hallmark on any emerging folk performer's work, joins Merryn for Shanklin Chine, an atmospheric composition, with Kelly vocally taking the part of the ghost of a dead Napoleonic sailor imploring his lost love to join him, and Merryn the willing bereaved lover, disconsolate at her loss.
There is further contrast in the run out trio of tracks.
The Thieves of Whitehall is a song about the fruitless journey of a man to London to restore his fortune, taken from him by the misuse of power. Although a metaphor out of kilter with the lyric's period setting, the verses flow by like the English landscape seen from a high-speed train window, with pace and anxiety mounting as the futility of the trip becomes clear.
The Wake is a simple, moving song about the enduring connection to a departed love one - ending poignantly, "I'll be there anon".
Dawn, a minute of melancholy piano instrumental, closes - leaving a mental imprint long after its last chord has reached for silence.
This a beautiful set of twenty first century folk songs; the breadth of imagination and spirit captured on this record is genuinely remarkable. Our Bright Night underlines that Kirsty Merryn is a writer and musician with a profound, tender-hearted talent.