Boys, bylines and missing fivers (1)
Boys, bylines and missing fivers (2)

Karine Polwart. Honestly!


Karine Polwart This Earthly Spell (Hegri)

It started as just the name, Karine Polwart, listed among others in Salut! Live's Coming Soon list of items expected to be posted in the near future. From memory, the "others" included Marie Little, Graham and Eileen Pratt, Leon Rosselson and Cora Smyth. You may have noticed that reviews of albums by the last three, and an interview with Marie, have been up here for a little while.

As each of those other articles was posted, the name was deleted from the list. Until there was only Karine's.

False promise? Not a bit of it. And when Salut! Live was assured that the very busy Ms Polwart was on the point of delivering the answers to our interview questions - I am in the Middle East and she, of course, isn't; face-to-face chats are impossible, long phone conversations beyond our meagre resources - the pledge was beefed up to read: Karine Polwart. Honestly!

Watch this space, or one near it. The honesty refers at this stage to my intentions, and Karine's willingness - time permitting - to respond. I am sure, however, that it will be translated into action. Not soon enough for my liking, though, and not soon enough to fit my original plan to run a review of This Earthly Spell at the same time as the interview.

But the delay has one highly positive consequence. What would have been a quietly appreciative but hardly rapturous review, say a month, ago is now going to be a corker.

Not since Bob Fox's Dreams Never Leave You - my folk album of 2000, for whatever that is worth - has a record grown from relatively unpromising beginnings to hook me so comprehensively.

At first. I found myself scratching my head and struggling to find melodies of merit, songs I could truly enjoy. How I longed for Karine's distant glories with Malinky, or indeed the Scribbled in Chalk album that once served me so well. It arrived during a keep fit phase when, living in Paris, I would devote an hour each morning to the nearest I was likely to get, outside of badminton courts, to running: speed walking around the Tuileries. Mindless forms of exercise without music are out of bounds so far as I am concerned, and Scribbled in Chalk plugged the gap perfectly.

But the now familiar process of playing a review album over and again on the car stereo has had the desired impact. What began as an effort is now a joy. The album turns out to have infectious riffs and refrains, spirited rhetoric, the rich lyricism of a very clever lady and seriously good songs capable of appealing to a much wider audience than folk. I am now hypnotised by This Earthly Spell.

In particular, the insistent opener - The Good Years - and haunting Painted it White, on which it sounds as if Coldplay have invaded the studio as session men, are the sorts of tracks other artists might take into the singles charts. Better Things strikingly contrasts the good that men and women do with their hands with the evil. And Sorry sternly withholds pardon from what could be any one of a string of offenders against mankind (the notes may well identify the culprit, but have been mislaid).

And on it goes. There is not, despite my early doubts, a trace of padding. Karine's album of traditional songs, The Fairest Floo'er, has also reached me during my patient wait for answers to questions, and is
exquisite; but while hardly like with like, This Earthly Spell has the edge. It is an exemplary offering from a singer-songwriter with the natural ability to turn her own sparkling prose and musical awareness into a compelling, rounded set. And the band - with Karine's brother Steven, outstanding on banjo and guitar - is strong enough to ensure there are no loose ends.

It took its time to have this effect. But then, maybe I am just a slow learner. As for the interview, all I can say is: "Soon. Honestly. Inshallah."


Pete Sixsmith

Couldn't agree with you more. I too thought it a decent offering and then it got under my skin and it has stayed on my "Listen to this" pile for ages. The songs are perfect - she is a song writer who gets at a subject and creates pictures in your mind. She is a great admirere of Dick Gaughan and I think her songs reflect his ideals of social awareness without being preachy. Long live the Polwart.

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