Sam Lou Talbot : Photo by Simone Smith
Sam Lou Talbot : Body Down (Live)Release : 3 December 2021
This is an extraordinary album - eight intimate sketches of desire and its discontents performed with remarkable emotional reach.
It would be easy to dismiss music coming out of academic study as bloodless and over-thought - yet, as recent releases by Michael Walsh and Gareth Bonello attest, the time such work affords often allows artists to follow cultural roots further than they might, and to dig deeper into their own psyches, with profound creative consequences.
Sam Lou Talbot is an English singer-songwriter based in Glasgow. She released a “beautifully intense and hypnotic” album of impromptu single-takes, Mer-Made, in 2018.
This new set of songs stands alone and also heralds two further studio LPs, both slated for 2022.
Talbot’s intellectual base is wide. She is a PhD candidate in Music at the University of Glasgow, a GTA in Genders, and a Guest Lecturer in MSc Popular Music Industries - and also a lecturer in Writing for the Creative Disciplines at The Glasgow School of Art. Her research ‘attends to the relationship between spontaneous song/writing and transformations, experimental performance, nomadic creative practice, embodiment and the everyday.’
Bob Dylan wrote in Chronicles (2004: 51) that songwriting is a case of ‘convert[ing] something’. - Talbot's PhD project, with its proposed title : These Fires Inside: Songwriting Autoethnographies, deploys storying as re-interpretation to question what this might be.
Her songs are raw and immersive, suggesting paradoxically that as a performer and academic she has worked hard to think her way back to unbidden instinct.
Body Down (Live) took one day to record, in a converted church studio - St Mary’s Space, Appin. The location added ambience and St Mary's resident producer, Jamie Smith, did a striking job capturing the inherent energy of the songs.
A first listen to the new album is like hearing the magnificent, primordial, emotion-provoking clarity of thunder over an open sea.
Through seven spontaneous, improvised compositions (the last piece is a more complex, over dubbed arrangement of the first), Talbot soul-mines half-memories of love and loss.
There is truth in Sam Lou Talbot’s voice. You believe every syllable she sings. Her vocals are rich and sinuous; the spare acoustic instrumental frame of each song heightens the perception of psychological detail.
The songs are shadowed, unsettling and lost in an undercurrent of deep, primeval feeling - a Southern Gothic inheritance. You'd not necessarily expect a redemptive ending to a film they sound-tracked.
The album’s high point is reached with Ride - a tense mandolin and the flat thump of a drum underpinning eidetic sonic imagery of burning emotion - but the stately and mesmeric Glow runs it close, and the slow churn of the title track is held together by its own resonant intensity.
At the close Blue Valentine (String Reprise), soft-hued and minimally illuminated by the sorrowful drama of Lithuanian composer Dr Rūta Vitkauskaitė's strings and Talbot’s interlacing, double tracked vocals, provides the album’s most affecting lament.
What is echoed here? The free-expression poetic spate of Patti Smith, the distracting otherness of Beth Gibbons' work with Rustin Man and the stilling mood of The Cowboy Junkies' debut certainly, but Body Down comes from one singer’s heart, and what it shares with any accurate list of comparators is uniqueness and impact; this is unswerving, magnetic music from the hidden wildness of human reality.