Personnel: Karine Polwart (vocals, acoustic guitar, tenor guitar, percussion); Steve Polwart (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar); Inge Thomson (vocals, glockenspiel, percussion); Sarah Hayes (flute); Leila Dunn (clarinet); Alex Trotter, Tom Poulson (trumpet); Steven Cowling (horns); Iain Cook (piano, keyboards, percussion); Iain Sandilands (vibraphone, marimba); Mattie Foulds (percussion).
Audio Mixers: Mattie Foulds; Iain Cook; Stuart Hamilton; Karine Polwart.
Recording information: Alucard Studios; Chem 19; Mobile With a Home, Heriot.
Photographer: Paul Heartfield.
Home to surely the first ever Scottish folk song about Donald Trump, the Burns Unit vocalist Karine Polwart's ambitious fifth solo album, Traces, underlines why she's built a reputation as one of the scene's most intriguing singer/songwriters. Delivered in her thick Stirlingshire accent, opener "Cover Your Eyes" suggests that The Apprentice's boss might want to give her a wide berth should they ever cross paths in the Aberdeen coastal area where he developed his $100-million golf course. The pounding military drums, chiming glockenspiels, and mournful brass on "King of Birds," which references the Occupy movement at London's St. Paul's Cathedral, also continues the protest theme. But despite its rather defiant start, the follow-up to 2008's This Earthly Spell is far more concerned about dealing with issues of loss and bereavement than putting the world to rights. The contemplative "Strange News" reflects on the different ways in which her family reacted to the death of her younger cousin. The haunting "We're All Leaving" attempts to understand the turmoil of Charles Darwin as he grieves over his late ten-year-old daughter while embarking on his various discoveries, while the unsettling but poignant closer "Half a Mile" imagines the last walk of a schoolgirl who was murdered and abducted 30 years ago. If that all sounds a little heavy-going, then there are a few lighter, almost poppier moments, such as "Tears for Lot's Wife," a tale about the fall of Sodom with an enchanting Sarah McLachlan-meets-Enya vibe about it, and the gentle lilting folk balladry of "Don't Worry." But Traces is undoubtedly defined by Polwart's ability to create beauty within even the most devastating of subject matter. ~ Jon O'Brien