Gracious Wings is the eighth album from “the velvet-voiced treasure of the British folk scene”, and marks the fabulous return of Jackie Oates to her solo work. The album welcomes a swathe of incredible guest artists along for the ride, and the final result is a well-constructed and broad-reaching set of original songs, traditional music and modern covers.
When I Was A Fair Maid is a pleasant new spin on the traditional song The Female Drummer AKA The Pretty Drummer Boy, in which a young lady joins the army, pretending to be a boy. It all starts so well for our heroine, but can she keep her secret safe?
The second track, Robin Tells of Winter / Gracious Wings has a wonderful story behind it. The first part was written during and is a testament to the winter lockdown of 2021, where we were all waiting for that first hopeful sign of a brighter future. Gracious Wings is an original morris tune written for a virtual morris competition held over the internet, and it’d be challenging to find a better example of the way trad folk lives on in modern times. That said, Roobarb and Custard is a tune set in which the first part is named after an animated cat from the 70s. Hey, the 1970s is modern for trad folk!
Don’t let the clean, upbeat musical opening and exquisite harmonies of La Llorona mislead you. La Llorona is named after (brace yourselves!) the Mexican ghost of a vengeful mother that haunts the water she drowned her children in. When you listen to the words, it’s an emotional journey into the fears of unplanned pregnancy in difficult circumstances. It’s one of those mesmerising songs that have upbeat music and heavy lyrics, and it comes together beautifully.
The Ship in Distress is similar, in that the music is almost jaunty, but the lyrical content quite horrifying. It is a wonderful version of a traditional song that stands as testament to human bravery and hope above all else.
Oates did promise some unexpected covers, and she delivers. On and On is a cover by the 90s Britpop band The Longpigs.
It’s always a surprise to find these sorts of covers mixed in with trad songs, but it’s far from the first time. Oates’s brother Jim Moray’s cover of XTC’s All You Pretty Girls is another good example. Perhaps it runs in the family? The other covers include Time Time Time by Tom Waits, and a wonderful version of Looking For My Own Lone Ranger by Ricky Ross.
All in all, Gracious Wings is a fantastic return of one the trad folk scene’s purest voices.Alex Turner
Released September 2nd 2022 on CD and digitally on Needle Pin Records. Engineered, mixed and produced by Richard Evans.
1. When I Was A Fair Maid
2. Robin Tells Of Winter / Gracious Wings
3. Tammy Toddles
4. La Llorona
5. The Ship In Distress
6. On and On
7. Iruten Ari Nuzu (I Am Making Wool)
8. Roobarb and Custard
9. Looking For My Own Lone Ranger
10. Lament To The Moon
11.Time Time Time