The process known as “taking stock” may be triggered by a milestone birthday (let’s say, 30) or growing professional recognition (let’s say, Folk Singer of the Year 2014). With The Dawn, Bella Hardy’s seventh album, sees her reflecting on a year in her life, in love, in loss. A year of travel, emotionally and literally - evocatively captured in the wistful leave-taking of First Light Of The Morning and the healing, homeward-looking Time Wanders On.
This album of her own compositions gives Bella space to experiment. Her soaring, clear voice and highly expressive phrasing allow every word and emotion in her songs to breathe.
Producer Ben Seal creates spare, atmospheric arrangements that brilliantly fuse new technology with traditional instrumentation. Electronic effects are sensitively used, with some delightfully managed transitions from iPhone demo to studio recording, such as the rippling water fiddle on Lullaby For A Grieving Man.
On You Don’t Have To Change (But You Have To Choose) a confined vocal gives way to explosive choral layers, pealing like church bells. Ghostly, flickering sound effects add period authenticity to Jolly Good Luck To The Girl That Loves A Soldier, commissioned for the World War One commemoration project Songs For The Voiceless. That final “Hallelujah” is heart-stopping.
Relationships are scrutinised fearlessly. In the visceral Gifts, ill-suited lovers are in torment. Woven into panicked cries of “I can’t fly” is a crafty lyrical nod to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, another tale of star-crossed lovers.
The sardonic, weary, Another Whisky Song describes a love triangle of sorts, punctuated by slow fiddle drones and clattering percussion. The simple, heartfelt refrain of Oh! My God! I Miss You has a captivating immediacy and honesty.
There is plenty of light among the shade, however. Opener, The Only Thing To Do, sets an overarching air of optimism, a refusal to be ground down by self-doubt or to shut out receptiveness to love. The Darkening Of The Day celebrates the value of friendship, and the green shoots of hope in closing song And We Begin brings the album back full circle.
Anyone who enjoyed The Unthanks’ Mount The Air will find plenty to appreciate here. It has a similar, unclassifiable modernity and spaciousnes,s underscored with tender, poignant brass and lean piano. With The Dawn is more grounded, less ethereal, but is equally exquisite in execution.Su O’Brien
Released 30 March 2015 on Noe Records
Produced by Ben Seal
1. The Only Thing To Do
2. First Light Of The Morning
3. The Darkening Of The Day
4. Jolly Good Luck To The Girl That Loves A Soldier
5. You Don’t Have To Change (But You Have To Choose)
6. Another Whisky Song
7. Oh! My God! I Miss You
9. Time Wanders On
10. Lullaby For A Grieving Man
11. And We Begin