Shortwinger - Maddy Prior with Hannah James &  Giles Lewin

the bright young folk review

A new album which features Maddy Prior is always something to be looked forward to and Shortwinger doesn’t disappoint. This is her second album in collaboration with Hannah James and Giles Lewin and is a long awaited successor to 3 for Joy.

The album deals with the natural world, specifically birds and hares, and their place in folklore. Goshawks, wrens, herons, swallows, blackbirds, starlings, owls, larks and curlews all feature.

The album is full of drama, beginning with the goshawk, trained by the austringer. The bird is described as a “ruffian of the air” and the song celebrates its prowess as a hunter. The seven-minute long Murmuration captures the swooping behaviour of starlings in the evening before roosting for the night. James opens the singing, over accordion accompaniment, and is joined by Lewin and Prior, repeating the word “murmuration” in harmony and counterpoint, perfectly depicting the scene. The central section is sung by Prior with lyrics that refer to the research into this phenomenon. Rather than try to find out why the birds behave in this way, it suggests, we should just marvel that they do, and the song ends with the words: “Sit in silence now at vespers, and feel the starlings’ wings at play.”

Most dramatic, of course, is The Fabled Hare, beginning with a shape- shifting spell, moving through medieval poetry to contemporary lyrics conveying the animal’s current struggles. This new arrangement features other-wordly drones, superb close-harmony singing and percussive effect (James’ clogs, one presumes).

A couple of poems are used to great effect. Lewin’s setting of Emily Dickinson’s The Owl, sung a capella, is a musical jewel, while the medieval poem Winter Wakeneth fits perfectly into the mystery of The Fabled Hare. Lewin’s arrangement of the popular Lark in the Clear Air is particularly beautiful, with the voices weaving in and out of each other.

The talents of Maddy Prior, Hannah James and Giles Lewin combine to create a rich and varied sound, whether singing a capella, or with full instrumentation.

Shelley Rainey

Released by Park Records on 25 May 2018

1. Austringer
2. Jenny Wren
3. Flying Boy
4. The Grey Heron
5. Swallow
6. The Lucky Blackbird/House of White Roses
7. Murmuration
8. The Owl
9. The Fabled Hare
10. The Lark in the Clear Air
11. The Curlew

Maddy Prior with Hannah James & Giles Lewin discography