Pity the plight of the young singer-songwriter. Toting an acoustic guitar and a set of sincere ditties is not exactly a unique selling point when trying to get noticed these days.
However, Kelly Oliver might just have a bit of something about herself. Debut album This Land offers a different approach that sets it apart from the crowd of earnest young men and women filling out support slots across the land.
The main strength of the album is the way in which Oliver uses the lyrics to weave a story, as on The Witch Of Walkern or Grandpa Was A Stoker (featuring a snatch of Dave Swarbrick on fiddle). Similarly Daughter Dear, a tale of love forbidden by parental disapproval, wears the clothes of traditional ballads without seeming fusty or uncomfortable.
Meanwhile, Off To The Market uses a trad-style melody and lyrical refrain to lull the listener into a false sense of comfort, before revealing itself to be a spine-tingling description of human and animal trafficking. If being able to write beyond her own experiences makes the words worth a listen, the melodies also flow naturally and are carried well by a pleasant, tuneful and unshowy voice in the mould of Cara Dillon and Heidi Talbot.
Unfortunately only the latter part of that equation applies to lead single Diamond Girl, which would perhaps be more suited as a track on a Laura Marling LP. It’s also debatable whether the world needs another version of Dougie Maclean’s Caledonia, even if the rendition itself is not particularly at fault.
The slight soppiness of those two tracks is more than balanced out by the often gutsy bass guitar playing of producer Lauren Deakin Davies, which supports and provides rhythmic drive without overpowering. Similarly, the use of harmonica broadens the sonic palette of songs such as the cod-Appalachian ballad Mr Officer, while the guitar parts are well considered if not quite the main attraction.
All told, a listenable and likeable album showing a distinctive yet mature songwriting style. A promising talent, hopefully Oliver will move up the club and festival billings and carry on turning out more songs with something to say.Nick Brook
Released 2014 by Folkstock records
1.The Witch Of Walkern
2. Diamond Girl
3. Mary And The Soldier
4. Daughter Dear
5. Mr Officer
6. Far From Home
8. A Gush Of Wind
9. Off To The Market
10. Grandpa Was A Stoker
11. Playing with Sand