Jackie Oates is one of the most trusted voices in English folk music, but his albums — with the exception of the glorious Hyperboreans – have not always lived up to his abilities. graceful wings is a mixed album: songs from theatrical projects are shyly mixed with traditional ballads, strange original compositions and a few reworkings of modern pop songs.
Some of the record’s concerns stem from Oates’ current studies for a degree in music psychotherapy, which saw her shadowing a music psychotherapist in hospice. Therapist, Tom Crook, compared her role to that of the harpy No-Name in Philip Pullman’s The amber spyglass – later renamed Gracious Wings by the heroine of the book. The harpy could be a cousin of the central figure of “La Llorona”, the vengeful and crying ghost of Mexican folklore. Originally the song was written for a dramatic performance by Amy Mason. On this version, Oates is joined by co-writer Megan Henwood on guitar and vocals, while John Parker’s double bass screeches eerily.
The album opens with a cheerful traditional song, “When I Was a Beautiful Maid”, the story of a girl who disguises herself in a “blue coat” and enlists as a sailor; Oates’ reading rattles with producer Richard Evans on mandolin. Things are still at sea for “The Ship in Distress,” a tale of nautical cannibalism narrowly avoided by the appearance of a rescue vessel. Oates’ Oxfordshire neighbor John Spiers adds an Anglo melodeon and concertina as silver as a moonlit night on “Lament to the Moon,” a lover’s farewell to a drowned fisherman. Spires is also co-leader of “Iruten Ari Nuzu (I make wool)”, a song by Basque lacemakers.
An instrumental “Roobarb & Custard” interstitial (not, unfortunately, the 1970s children’s cartoon theme, though named after the show) bubbles up with Mike Cosgrove’s accordion.
The modern cover versions are both interesting. A reading of Longpigs’ “On and On” flattens the rock star’s sneer in Crispin Hunt’s original vocals into more obvious sincerity. And on the closing title “Time Time Time”, there is the imagined spectrum: a duet with the space left by the absence of the rocky voice of Tom Waits, which is filled by the double bass. The verses are filled with a Waitsian cavalcade of bohemian characters. “It’s time, time, time you love,” Oates chorus, joined by The Imagined Village bandmate Simon Emmerson and his musical psychotherapist mentor, Tom Crook. “And it is time, time, time. . .”
‘graceful wings‘ is edited by Needle Pin