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SALT HOUSE - Lay Your Dark Low

SALT HOUSE - Lay Your Dark Low
Make Believe Records MBR5CD

Besides being the name of a favourite tapas restaurant in Liverpool, Salt House is also what their publicity handout describes as “a major new musical force from Scotland.” I also warm to the tagline ‘indie-traditional’. The roll-call of Siobhan Miller, Ewan MacPherson, Lauren MacColl and Euan Burton includes harmonium, guitar, banjo, fiddle and upright bass in the accompaniment. As interesting a combination as patatas bravas and chipirones perhaps? – you’d be right. Informed by, though not immersed in traditional music (only a small percentage of the tracks are trad.arr.), it is not possible to listen to this debut record without reading things into the lyrics which are self-writes. Esoteric? Arcane? Well, yes, but wasn’t that the year zero impact of Dylan?

The opening cut, Ewan MacPherson’s Strong Dark Souls sets the scene; its talk of “singers in silent streets” and “my autumn, the weather’s warning” is the sort of mood only conjured in the middle of a particularly dark night, yet nonetheless uplifting, triumphant even. Make of this one what you will but, turmoil and change is the core theme and in fact a sombre sense of amorphous discontent is a lodestar throughout the album. Siobhan’s is the lead voice and overall the album, unlike a lot of precocious folk-based music, doesn’t suffer from a shortage of decent tunes. Anchored by Euan’s bass and betraying his jazz background, the sound is musically engrossing – restrained but compelling.

Siobhan’s softly-sung vocal on the hallowed-sounding She’s Like The Swallow is wholly convincing as this tale of despondent resignation unfolds. The sole cover - David Francey’s Morning Train - confronts the reality of us all riding the same rails, no matter what god we recognise.

You’ll need to allow this record to seep into your psyches, but it repays prolonged investigation. If you liked Mellow Candle and Trees (what was once called ‘progressive folk’) and I did, then this too, is the business.

Clive Pownceby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 99 of The Living Tradition magazine.