Scope and emotional depth from a one-woman choir.
Where do you find a community choir to lead when you are holed up by yourself in a house on a hill during a lockdown? Well, you have to create the choir by multi-tracking yourself. This is precisely what Katy Rose Bennett did during the pandemic; starting with split-screen videos on social media and culminating in producing the songs on this album from just her own multi-tracked vocals and a bit of ‘body percussion’.
Hearing that acapella singing, that sort of multi-vocal choir that uses voices in place of instruments to create a textured rhythm and melody backing the lead vocals, always leads to the conclusion that it is produced by skilled and technically outstanding singers and arrangers. But, generally, it doesn’t engage beyond the sense of awe at its proficiency. There is always an echo of The Flying Pickets, very clever but slightly naff, version of ‘Only You’.
There are moments early on the album that might start some re-assessment of this antipathy to acapella music; however, it is the pairing of two songs that really demonstrates that there can be deep emotional engagement with this acapella style that transcends any feeling that it’s simply very clever. Firstly, ‘I Have a Song’ starts from a point of total isolation, even exclusion, before bursting through into emotional depths about the liberation of music and the catharsis of song writing. Then ‘Box in the Attic’ explores memory and nostalgia and starts from looking through family photographs leading to reminisces about the pressures of being together, but also a realisation of what was shared: ‘But for that precise moment we were all there together’.
The themes are clearly derived from that very specific feeling of being in lockdown: distance, loneliness and searching for meaning in nature, the environment and small successes such as Bennett’s ‘Growing Peas’. Before ending with the desire for the world to return to normal: “In a place with people I love and play to a real live crowd.”
Ultimately ‘Alone On a Hill’ demonstrates two things: the potential scope and emotional depth of acapella choral singing and the quality of Bennett’s songwriting.