This is a beautiful album. Beautifully written, beautifully played and sung, beautifully crafted. Hannah Read is one of those musicians who seem too gifted not to turn out perfection each time she records. This, her second album, is the follow up to her acclaimed 2012 debut ‘Wrapped In Lace’. Hannah Read was born and grew up in Scotland but is now based in the USA. This gives her music a very interesting hybrid sound, since the roots of her upbringing in Scottish and English folk music are clear to hear but they’re infused with a strong sense of Americana – she’s practically a one woman Transatlantic Sessions! Read has been honing her craft touring all around the US and Europe in recent years and was part of the highly praised Songs of Separation project that won a BBC Folk Award for Best Album of 2017.
The album opens with the yearning ‘Moorland Bare’. You can hear the landscape in this song, the bleak beauty of the moorland, the winds skimming across the countryside. It’s a great opening number and really sets the tone for the album. There’s some great harmony singing here from Sarah Jarosz, one of a number of “celebrity” collaborators on the album (we also have guitarist Jefferson Hamer, who regularly works with Anais Mitchell, plus bass maestro, Jeff Picker, who has worked with Jarosz and Ricky Skaggs, among others). This first track is the only one on the album not wholly written by Read; she decided to let a certain Robert Louis Stevenson provide the lyrics! Taken from one of his poems she does full justice to his words with a melody that really brings them to life. “Around you still the curlew sings, the freshness of the weather clings, the maiden jewels of the rain sit in your dabbled locks again”
The rest of the albums nine tracks are all written by Read and, while she may not be as poetic as Stevenson, she still pens some impressive lyrics, most notably on the title track ‘Way Out I’ll Wander’ – “Way out I’ll wander beyond the fallen trees. Past the weathered tophouse and bow down on my knees. Kiss the ground crying, nose deep in snow, buried deep in the soil below” and on the excellent ‘She Took a Gamble’ – “Pull back the curtains and watch the swelling tide the way it tears up, sucks everything inside; the hermit crabs and tiny things buried deep, run back to shore now, pick up your heavy feet”. The whole album really does bring to mind the windswept countryside of the remote Isle of Eigg, off the West coast of Scotland, where Read grew up learning the fiddle and singing traditional folk songs. But this is a very modern take on the music she grew up with. Occasionally you hear echoes of Pentangle in some of the tracks and her voice offers hints of Joni Mitchell at times but Read has a very distinctive sound that is most definitely her own and the mix of Celtic and American influences has produced a fascinating set of songs. Much like the sea around her old island home these songs may appear quite tranquil on the surface but there is a great deal going on once you dive into them
The musicianship is excellent throughout, as you would expect given the names mentioned above. Read herself plays fiddle along with electric and acoustic guitars and the whole thing has been very well put together by Hannah Read and her co-producer Charlie Van Kirk. It’s almost a perfect album.
Almost – there’s just the niggling feeling that, at twenty eight minutes and forty three seconds, the album is more than a little on the short side. Putting aside that the brevity makes it poor value for money in an age when many albums come in closer to the fifty minute mark; it actually feels too short and you find yourself wondering where the rest of the album has gone. It would’ve benefited from another track or two to give it a more rounded out feel – it does seem incomplete. It’s nit picking, of course. The quality of the songwriting and performance on this album has to make it an early contender for one of the albums of the year. Hannah Read is, clearly, someone we’ll be hearing a lot more of.
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An exquisite, almost perfect album.