Both of these talented youngsters are already well integrated into established (and respected) bands: Jamie with Kerfuffle, Katriona with Tiny Tin Lady. But they each have an extraordinary amount to offer outside of a band context, and their teaming-up as a duo has already proved a very wise move both artistically and in terms of greater recognition of their individual talents. They’ve been leaving audiences open-mouthed with their (genuinely) exciting and unassumingly confident displays of instrumental technique, as well as showcasing some outstanding original songs (both Kat and Jamie are also very capable songwriters, and really good singers to boot). They did release a taster-EP (A Game For Two) back in 2006, but Shadows And Half Light is their debut full-length offering. And it’s absolutely stunning.
Although their musical stance and general approach can be loosely described as acoustic-contemporary (as opposed to revivalist or traditional), they actually possess a very personal sound that totally belies the heard-it-all-before mundanity of that generic A-C tag. Jamie’s eerily delicate yet highly percussive “lap” guitar style is pretty much unique and just has to be seen to be believed (being almost as entertaining to watch as to hear!), and is strikingly complemented by Kat’s sensitive and intricate yet abundantly fiery fiddle playing; aptly, both of them provide an enviable degree of “shadows and half-light” in their musicianship, qualities which are reflected in the often murky preoccupations of their lyrics. Although they’re not exactly depressing, these creations tend to brood, to lurk within and just outside the borders of your consciousness, often compellingly so. Kat’s Hunter Man, the disc’s opener is a grim and atmospheric presence, in almost complete contrast to the really beautiful Susannah (which pays a certain amount of homage to Stephen Foster’s song of that name), while Travelling In Time is a moving and evidently deeply understanding portrait of a dementia sufferer. Jamie’s songs (of which there are five on the CD) tend to be more achingly personal, and the pained delicacy of Pleased To Meet You complements the awesomely familiar mental stasis of So Long and the perceptive philosophical conundrum of Stopped Clock. In all cases, the maturity and insightfulness of the writing is such that you marvel they can have been written by folks so young (and that’s not meant to sound patronising). The songs are punctuated with three instrumental tracks, each a stunning display of showmanship and rhythmic and melodic virtuosity but also thoroughly musical, with titles that are almost onomatopoeic (Running With Scissors indeed – scary, well you see what I mean!). As well as the original songs and instrumentals, the disc contains just one trad-arr track, a dazzling, dashing arrangement of All Among The Barley, capped off with a zestful original jig – so let’s hear some more similarly innovative arrangements of traditional material on future albums. One final observation: Kat and Jamie are skilled multi-instrumentalists, and they use the studio environment to persuasively yet selectively augment their basic fiddle-and-acoustic-guitar armoury – to very good effect too, it turns out, with smidgens of mandolin, banjo, electric guitar, viola, trombone and cajon intelligently embellishing the texture at key points. A very small number of guest musicians are employed too (Jamie’s sister Kathryn on piano and vocals, Fyrish’s Marjorie Paterson on cello, Dom Howell on bodhrán and Jack Theedom on double bass), and the unobtrusive naturalness of their contributions speaks volumes about the integrity of the core duo. This really is one of the freshest, strongest, most consistent and significantly impressive debut discs I’ve encountered in a long time: check out Kat and Jamie with due haste!