Songs of Hurt and Healing from Bristol-based duo Elliot Hall and Sarah Larkham. The music across the thirteen tracks is replete with skills of Elliot’s songwriting skills and the hypnotic musicality of Sarah’s vocals. These skills have been recognized with the winning in 2012 of the Viper Music Bristol Songwriter Competition. The duo are singers of songs, troubadours of melodies; they bring the traditions of English folk with a tale to tell, often shining a light into the darker corners of life’s experiences. The album title Songs of Hurt and Healing reflects this as amongst the hurt are flickers and flames of joy and hope.
Opening with 30 Days, the guitar is gentle as a springtime breeze with hints of flamenco, Sarah’s voice is considered and pure as the hurt drops off the notes delivered by Elliot and Larkham. The simplicity of the arrangement underlines the power of the lyrics, as time moves on over thirty days if you will be leaving… the yearning, the unshed tears can be heard in the power of the delivery. The quiet assuredness as guitar and harmonica bring you into the distinctly different registers of vocals, Elliot’s deep at times Tom Waits-like voice is tempered by the soprano purity of Sarah’s. They come together adding light and dark contours to the tune that underpins the lyrics of Winter’s Night in Paris (after the shootings). War is addressed in Covered in Dust, Sarah’s voice is strong warmed with emotion and true feeling as Elliot joins to harmonize on the chorus. The music has a country vibe and looks at the cost of war the effect on people no weddings now, separation and hurt. The opening trio are intelligent songs delivered with a quiet intensity.
Halfway through the album, we explore Crazy Paving, the tinkling of the piano ivories, and acoustic guitar continues the pace of the album, a delicate refrain with teeth showing in the lyrics. This is still in the theme of hurt. Sarah sings of water coming through a hole in the ceiling; and how it will not be repaired because living is too hard, and the last thing on your mind. The vocals build for the chorus, ‘just like crazy paving, I love the way you crack’; a love song with a difference. As the album progresses I want a blast of hope a change of tempo where the joy conquers the hurt. This would be musical punctuation showing the listener that life is textured and coloured. I thought Rainbow’s End might be the pot of gold that changed the tempo. Sadly, this was not the case another elegant but subdued track. Take a trip to Amsterdam with Annelies (for Anne Frank), praying for war to end and we can almost taste peace. It is tantalizingly close but so far away. This is the glimmer of hope burning faintly across a sea of despair and hate.
This is an album that flows on the ebb of the tide, do not expect a roaring torrent this is music that nods its head at elegant Americana, a gentle soiree of songs, not a raucous party. The last song showcases the elegant beauty of Sarah’s voice on the album and leaves you with a warm, heartfelt hug. BUT! Like all good shows, there is one more before the speakers fall silent. We have the thirteenth track Music, here the vibe picks up and we hear Elliott deliver the song with Sarah joining in as they create a song celebrating the power and joy of Music.
The album is sweet and beautifully put together but for me lacks the rawness and energy of their live performances where Sarah’s voice opens out and floods the room with colourful texture and power that pulls you into the music.
SEVENdoodle paws out of TEN …
- 30 Days
- Winter’s Night in Paris (after the shootings)
- Covered in Dust
- Weeping Willow
- Crazy Paving
- Not Beyond Repair
- Rainbow’s End
- A Hymn Song
- Annelies (for Anne Frank)
- Land of Kings
- Last Song