For Hannah James, solo means solo. Having made a reputation with Kerfuffle and Lady Maisery as a singer, accordion player and clog dancer Jigdoll sees her present an entirely self-penned and performed album combining all three of the above skills.
JigDoll is based on the live show of the same name, in which James uses loop pedals to create arrangements that have the intimacy and immediacy of solo performance, but with a much greater variation of timbre and texture than otherwise possible.
This approach of incremental layering has been carried into the studio. On First Lullaby, hummed drones are built upon with accompanying patterns and soothing shushes, with nearly two minutes gone before James gets on to singing any lyrics.
On The Carpenter, the first verse of the haunting melody is set against the simplest of thumb piano parts, before being repeated wholesale with added foot percussion, brooding accordion chords and genuinely spine-tingling vocal harmonies.
The use of James’ voice without words is a theme running through the album, with Barefoot Waltz consisting of a sung tune and the sound of her bare feet on wood. More conventional clogging makes an appearance on Clog Jig, to a jolly tune given a hint of menace by the low register and dry voicing on the accordion.
Less upbeat is the simple and plaintive Refugee Song, its lyrics taken from a broadside ballad. Their contemporary relevance is driven home by the all-original number that follows it, Treasures, a plea for openness and understanding towards those fleeing conflict, set to a Balkan rhythm.
To the album’s benefit, the studio is used to bypass some of the more methodical part-by-part construction of the pieces that would be necessary when performing live, as well as the changeover from playing a piano accordion one minute to performing some intricate footwork the next. On Karen’s, this is used to dramatic effect, as the knotty circular melody moves from accordion to whispered vocals.
The use of looping never becomes excessive or overbearing, and often is barely noticeable on the first listen, so naturally does it fit with the material. Perhaps this, more than anything, is what makes JigDoll feel very much like its writer’s own album.Nick Brook
Released on Rootbeat Records on September 2 2016. Produced by Hannah James and Dylan Fowler.
1. First Lullaby
3. Coppicing Song
4. Barefoot Waltz
5. Clog Song
6. Clog Jig
7. Tuulikki’s Tune
9. Refugee Song
11. The Carpenter
12. Maggie’s March
14. Last Lullaby