Having been delayed from the Spring Fay Hield’s first solo album is definitely long-awaited, and definitely worth the wait.
Formerly one quarter of The Witches of Elswick, Fay has taken time out to become a mother and write a PhD. For Looking Glass she has gone back to printed song sources and assembled an exciting collection of familiar and unfamiliar gems.
The mix of songs on the album creates some lovely changes in pace, between lamentation and sorrow and all-out silliness. This is all supported by the wonderful accompaniment of Sam Sweeney and Jon Boden on a variety of instruments.
On the sillier side, Mad Family is a delightful little ditty taken from a nursery rhyme whilst the final track, King Henry, is a rollicking good number featuring Hannah James on clogs.
Fay sings the upbeat numbers with aplomb but it is in the more serious songs that she comes into her own. The quality of her voice, and its pleasing Northern accent, combine to wonderful effect in songs of love or loss.
The Looking Glass, a Kipling poem, by way of Peter Bellamy, tells of the cruelty of looking in the mirror, no matter who you are. The gentle accompaniment allows Fay’s voice and the lyrics to rightly take centre stage.
The accompaniment is also perfect in Little Yellow Roses. A lesser-known song (possibly about the Spanish Civil War) the beautiful lament is complimented by the nykelharpa. A scandinavian relative of the hurdy-gurdy, it produces a sound not so familiar in English music, providing just the right otherworldly quality for the song.
The most wonderful thing about Looking Glass is that in very short order I wanted to sing along to it all, not just chorus songs like Grey Goose and Gander. Fay’s singing is infectious and whenever I listen to this album I can then be found humming snatches for days.
Across all eleven tracks this is a superb album that showcases Fay’s beautiful voice and delivery and also exposes the joy of really good accompaniment.Liz Osman
Released on Topic Records on 6 September 2010.
1. The Huntsman
2. Mad Family
3. Two Brothers
4. The Looking Glass
5. Little Yellow Roses
6. The Banks of the Nile
7. Kemp Owen
8. Sheepcrook and Black Dog
9. Grey Goose and Gander
10. The Shepherd’s Daughter
11. King Henry