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BELLA HARDY - Battleplan

BELLA HARDY - Battleplan
NOE Records NOE06

Leaving aside her recent acclaimed ‘side projects’ on the folkloric balladry of her beloved Peak District and the yuletide compendium Bright Morning Star, Bella’s fourth release displays an artist confident with her Muse widening the range of soundscapes used to present her carefully crafted song material.

Resident mainly in Edinburgh now, her band selection of excellent Scottish accompanists, The Midnight Watch, are Anna Massie (guitar/banjo), Angus Lyon (keyboards/accordion), James Lindsay (bass) and producer Mattie Foulds (drums). Their collective arrangements cleverly befit and chart the dynamic and moods of the several song pieces.

The combination of new songs with adaptations of traditional material reflects Bella’s academic approach to the songbook sources. She often abstracts from several variant versions and story strands to produce her own more modern, often complex, amalgam. Usually some part of her life experience and empathetic sense of the perspective of the female protagonists is sewn into this new contemporary take on both the lyrics and tunes.

This is a highly successful method refreshingly re-presenting, say, classic gypsy ballads (Good Man’s Wife), the downfall of the ‘unfortunate’ syphilitic lass (True Hearted Girl), the serial murderer ‘outlandish’ knight’s comeuppance being bedded alone in the ‘deep briny blue’ (The Seventh Girl) and the paling and fading decay resulting from ‘flash company’ (Yellow Handkerchief).

Dramatisation is provided by sophisticated musical scenery that, although recognisably and primarily folk, touches on rock (Three Pieces Of My Heart rather sounds like Judie Tzuke’s recent output) with some jazz, French café, etc. Always, however, centre-stage, clearly sitting atop the instrumentation, is that pure voice, passionately conveying the spectrum of emotions and moods of songs where grief, loneliness and darkness are customarily prevalent.

With her usual disarming honesty, Bella explains that her ‘battleplan’ lists somehow ‘never go to plan’. That surely matters little when the outcome is as winning and winsome as this latest excellent piece of work.

Kevin T. Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 96 of The Living Tradition magazine.