Caroline Weeks is one of those modern artists who make ordinary mortals feel a little wanting in their achievements. The multi-instrumentalist is not only an integral part of Natasha Khan’s Bat For Lashes project, but has also popped up in a death-folk-roots trio and a Bulgarian folk choir in recent times. To top it all, she has now completed her debut album Songs For Edna.
A rather clumsy title you may think until you realise that the album’s lyrics are all ‘borrowed’ from the late American poet Edna St. Vincent-Millay (the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, fact fans). The music, however, is all Weeks’s own, utilising her striking virtuosity on flute, clarinet and Spanish guitar to name a few.
A cursory listen to this album will have alt-folk fans muttering the names Josephine Foster and Joanna Newsom under their breath. Foster may not be very well known over here, but Newsom certainly is and the parallels are striking. Virtuoso female multi-instrumentalist (tick), complex musical arrangements (tick), searching lyrics (tick). All that is missing is the presence of Van Dyke Parks.
Millay’s poems obviously come into any review of this album, although many are truncated. Renascence loses some of its impact when it is reduced to a ten-line stanza, whereas sonnets such as What Lips My Lips Have Kissed and Pity Me Not retain their power by being reproduced in full.
The problem lies with poems being repeated out of sequence. The perceptive poetry of Oh, Sleep Forever In The Latmian Cave, for instance, loses some of its power by being taken out of context of the original fifty-two sonnet form in which it originally appeared.
In this context, the musical reproduction takes more precedence. And while there is much beauty in the minimal folk arrangements, there is little variety here to carry an album. Sure, the music washes by almost imperceptibly and on the surface sounds absolutely beautiful, but dig a little deeper and there is little of the emotional heft that carries album by Newsom and Foster.
Ultimately, Songs For Edna is a vanity recording. Weeks should be applauded for her boldness in tackling such a difficult project on her solo debut, but sadly there is little of the bohemian excess of Millay’s lifestyle on display in this beautiful but sadly cold recording.