5th November 2015
I’m still undecided, even after all this time, about which is the most satisfying; to listen to an album by a relative unknown, then once it’s been on the playlist for a good few runs-through and I’ve become accustomed to the sounds within, to then go out and catch the artist live as soon as possible; or whether it’s visa versa, or t’other way round as we like to say around here, I don’t know. I’m still on the fence with that one.
I first saw Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts live, happening upon them in the Sandygate Hotel last May, as part of the 2008 Wath Festival, when they got up to play a short set, which in turn, and quite unexpectedly, resulted in my jaw dropping onto my lap. Questions were going around my head during their short set, like for instance, what’s Kathryn Roberts doing here in the audience? Ah, I thought, Jamie must be her brother. Well done Sherlock. Now answer this; how does one so young learn to play the guitar like that? Jamie plays in an unorthodox manner, by resting his instrument upon his lap, whereupon he embarks on a festival of slapping, thumping and plucking away like a madman, whilst Katriona, an exceptionally tasteful fiddle player, adds the melody with a graceful stoicism. I must point out that when Katriona got up for this festival appearance, she could’ve been, for all intents and purposes, a fifteen-year old protégé for all I knew; the backlight flooding the Sandygate bar created just a silhouette of this tiny tin lady, but the standard of her playing betrayed her age by a good margin. Having first encountered the duo at Wath, I caught them soon after in a Sheffield pub, where I bought up all their recorded output, basically a couple of EPs, which served to put me on until the release of this, their first full blown studio album and I must say it was worth the wait. Comprised completely of self-penned songs and tunes, with the exception of the one traditional song “Among The Barley”, ‘Shadows and Half Light’ is not only a suitable taster for what this duo get up to on stage, but also serves as a pretty tasty debut album. Cutting their teeth in well known young (and current) bands, both Katriona and Jamie are used to performing and touring as well as popping in and out of the studio. In Tiny Tin Lady and Kerfuffle respectively, together with the shared experience of attending Leeds College of Music, where the couple met, Katriona and Jamie have managed to develop their individual styles of playing which now comes together and dovetails neatly in an album that accurately describes what they are all about. There’s a nice balance between Jamie’s introspective questioning songs and Katriona’s ability to tell a story. Katriona’s “Hunter Man”, the opening song, evokes the same spirit as Jonathan Kelly’s “Ballad of Cursed Anna”, with strange goings on in the woods, told with the aid of probably the best instrument for conveying fear and suspense, the violin. For those of us who assumed the duos’ musical prowess was limited to an expressively played guitar and some ethereal fiddle solos, then it may come as a surprise that there is also some additional mandolin, cajon, percussion and very effective trombone work, courtesy of Jamie Roberts, which adds an almost mariachi feel to “Stopped Clock” as well as popping up in other choice places on the album. Katriona’s update on the Stephen Foster classic “Suzanna” provides the album with one of the most memorable chorus songs that I can imagine being heard in folk clubs up and down the country before too long. For the sensitive ballads we have Jamie to depend on. “Pleased to Meet You” and “I Don’t Want To Say Goodbye” convey depth of feeling and sensitivity in equal measure, and finally, let’s not overlook Katriona’s delightfully ambient “Travelling In Time”, which concludes the album. Although the songs provide a major contribution to ‘Shadows and Half Light’, the instrumental pieces are not to be overlooked for a single moment. The inventiveness and dexterity of the duo’s playing ability is highlighted throughout the album but nowhere better than in “Middle of May” incorporating the jazzy “Big Nige”, with it’s instantly memorable, if hardly dancer friendly, time signature. Finally a word about packaging. To this reviewer, who has been known to put CD packaging in Room 101 ahead of bananas and traffic calming schemes, the music industry has finally settled on an excellent design for CD album sleeves that finally match up to the late lamented (but not quite extinct) gatefold LP sleeves and the beautiful music on ‘Shadows and Half Light’ has thankfully been given some suitably deserving packaging. Sounds good on the ipod, looks good on the shelf.