Kelly Bayfield “Wave Machine”

Independent, 2023

A fine body of work.

artwork for Kelly Bayfield "Wave Machine"Profoundly personal and, for a while, very private due to their poignancy, the songs on this debut album from Kelly Bayfield reach extraordinarily deep. By her own admission, the reflection and recording process provided Bayfield with “healing waymarkers and, a collaboratively lit beacon of warm light in the dark and uncertain landscape of grief”.

Bayfield has been singing, writing and collaborating for several years with established artists and has enjoyed regular appearances on BBC radio and at folk and americana festivals. Classically trained in voice and piano when she was young, she had lead roles in full-scale operas and choral works by the age of fourteen and went on to study music. All of these influences have led to her love of traditional and popular music and her establishing herself as a solo artist.

To create ‘Wave Machine‘, Bayfield collaborated with singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist David Edward Booth. Booth co-wrote several of the songs and produced and recorded the album throughout lockdown at his studio in Suffolk.

Throughout ‘Wave Machine‘, Bayfield’s exquisitely English voice effortlessly tells her tales and takes of life, love and loss. Sometimes there is a dream-like quality, but there is always vocal security and an endless range to take the listener through the often emotional journeys.

The album opens with one of the pre-released singles, ‘Vapour Trails‘ and features beautifully wistful, curious instrumentation. Bayfield explains, “once upon a time (although long before mine) you could turn your eyes towards the night sky and stare deeply for hours into the untouched beauty and mystery of creation. Now, these littered skies track our every move, beaming stars of a very different nature into our lives”. An interesting observation of life today.

Whistling Man‘, as Bayfield says, is “an observation on our traditional concepts of God. Is ‘He’ really to blame for mankind’s behaviour, or merely just the excuse”. Not an overtly religious song but thought-provoking, demonstrating Bayfields broad, secure vocal range and with some powerful lead guitar.

Bayfield wrote ‘John Mahoney‘, the second single released ahead of the album, for her Grandfather shortly before his passing in 2018. It is a meaningful, descriptive account of his life from birth, through school and conscription in 1943, to his final battle, with Alzheimer’s disease. The choice of instrumentation to illustrate this life story, including the cittern, fiddle, flute and harmonium, give a fairytale, almost Disney ambience. Most definitely the quality of an acclaimed film score. Very lovely.

Safe For Now‘ is a song Bayfield describes as having been written spontaneously by Booth on the visceral nature of shared grief and its capability to destroy and unite. It is strident in its message, “we’re safe for now, but this is no time to settle down. We live for now, but this is no time to settle down“. This is followed on the album by ‘Lullaby‘, which has to be one of the most hauntingly beautiful and calming songs ever. Bayfield describes the song as having been “born shortly after the birth of my eldest, in the most natural and organic of circumstances – whilst simply soothing him off to sleep”. However, a further and deeply profound emotional charge is added when she then explains that the song took on a completely new dimension after her late husband Mat Bayfield was taken by a brain tumour in 2019. Initially performed a cappella, with a few simple harmonies, in this instance Bayfields exquisite vocal is accompanied by Booth on guitar, with a wonderfully delicate outcome.

Bayfield is clearly a deep thinker, which comes across in all her lyrics. They are carefully considered, contemplative and contemporary. She relates to the various subjects with dignity and grace while the music, the guest musicians and the combination of instruments charmingly enhance the sentiments.

Several of the songs are written for or are dedicated to her late husband, Mat: ‘Hitchhiker‘ – about taking a leap of faith and trusting your instincts “hitchhiker do you know where you’re heading ’cause I can carry you all the way. Sweet passenger, there’s something you’re dreading are you running, are you here to stay“.The title track, ‘Wave Machine‘, explores the mesmerising physics of waves and the striking parallels between the life-cycle of humans, and that of our ocean-dwelling counterparts. And ‘Travelling‘, which Bayfield began composing for Mat one afternoon while he lay resting in bed. Mat was taken to hospital that evening and never came home. Understandably, Bayfield describes this song’s finishing and subsequent recording as “the biggest challenge I have ever faced in my music career, neither of which would have happened without Booth’s help.” She should be proud that she managed it with a serene assurance and a vocal quality not dissimilar to a certain Ms Carpenter. Wonderful: ‘go on, your peace will come, we’ll learn to love again. Go on, we’ll promise not to cry, just never say goodbye

An overarching theme that emerges from this collection of songs is one of transformation. Previously having been reluctant to release the pieces due to their personal nature, Bayfield finally acknowledged that the songs are “restless now, ready to find new homes, and ready to make way for a new tide, and all the music, joy, and love that it will bring.”

8/10
8/10

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