Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow’s latest album The Fragile consists largely of original material, highlighting the strong songwriting skills of the duo. The album also features Cormac Byrne (percussion), Sam Pegg (bass), Anna Esslemont (violin) and Jude Abbott (horns).
There are several poignant, slow-paced songs at the core of the album, driven by the artists’ balanced vocals and the superb and always distinctive piano playing from Belinda. Particularly good here are The Tallest Tree, an uplifting tale based on a robin’s view of the world below and The Last Polar Bear, a beautiful love song between the last patch of snow and the polar bear.
More upbeat and characterful storytelling is featured in the wonderfully evocative A Daytrip, an entertaining description of the minutiae of an elderly couple’s trip to the seaside, and in Gentleman Jack, with both songs laced with a compelling mixture of wit and poignancy.
The cutting Pass it On, offering merciless satire of gossips and rumourmongers, is another highlight. Acute social observation is featured in the standout Ronnie’s Song with its heartfelt philosophy that "A person is a person, it makes no odds to me".
The tracks Little Boy Blue (set to music from the Eugene Field poem) and She Lived Beside the Anner provide a more traditional element, but these perhaps don’t entirely match the power of the original material on the album. Finally, Madgie in the Summerlands, an emotive song inspired by a much-missed cat, features Jackie Oates on vocals.
An excellent and highly distinctive album.