Unusually for a folk album, Crows’ Bones was commissioned by Opera North. Martin Green, Inge Thomson, Becky Unthank and Nicklas Roswall have managed to produce a sound that is both mediaeval and avant-garde. The theme is ghostly, with sinister corvids ever present. The female voices have a breathy quality, which when coupled with the unusual sound of the nyckelharpa add to the otherworldliness of the album.
The dramatic introduction to the opening track, Mess of Crows, sounds like a sinister organist in a black and white horror film. The lyrics are a poem from Orkney.
Corvids appear again in the traditional song Three Ravens - an intriguing, but far from traditional interpretation of the song with strange sound effects in the instrumental section.
More sinister accordion noises appear in I Saw the Dead which has scrunchy harmonies from the voices and a fairground organ style interlude adding to the nightmarish quality.
The Lyke Wake Dirge uses both the traditional tune from Yorkshire, and the song of same name. It is an ancient song which charts the journey of the soul. Here it is given a delicate treatment with glockenspiel and accordion taking the lead. The nyckelharpa adds to the spookiness.
Maklin’s Bridal March/Griesly Bride has a title that would imply celebration but the tune is more like a dirge than a bridal march, and the song which follows is far from jolly!
Perhaps a surprise inclusion is a cover of Young’un Sean Cooney’s song One December Morn about the bombing of Hartlepool in the First World War. The nyckelharpa is used to particularly good effect, providing a series of sustained notes under Becky Unthank’s ethereal singing.
Particularly unusual are the two improvised pieces, Some Neither and Some Dead. The latter features the trio Ayakhaan playing khomus (mouth harps) A very experimental and sinister track.
While perhaps not an album for the folk purists, many will enjoy the treatment of original and traditional material.Shelley Rainey
Released by Reveal Records, 12th May 2014
1. Mess of Crows
2. Lyke Wake Dirge
3. Some Living
4. I Saw the Dead
5. Some Neither
6. One December Morn
7. Three Ravens
8. Maklin’s Bridal March/Griesly Bride
9. Some Dead