Great things are happening on the UK folk scene at the moment, and this accomplished debut album by Scottish duo Paul Tasker and Iona Macdonald should be heralded alongside the best of the new releases.
Based in Glasgow, guitarist Tasker and singer Macdonald worked as session musicians before forming Doghouse Roses in 2005. They are also a couple and named their band in reference to flowers bought for a partner after a fight! They have released two EPs and a single (Greener The Grass) to date, and have also appeared as full touring members of the acclaimed Willard Grant Conspiracy.
Recorded with acclaimed producer Malcolm Lindsay and a cast of veteran session musicians, the duo’s full-length debut pays testament to the years spent crafting their skills and delivers as a fully-formed work of art. Lindsay does a fine job throughout the album, framing the duo’s stark folk-blues with discreet embellishments that accentuate the melodic strength of the songs.
Gone There opens the album with a cyclical guitar figure that showcases Tasker’s picking skills, before Macdonald’s voice makes its dramatic entrance. The crystalline clarity of her vocal evokes immediate thoughts of Sandy Denny and Lindy Thompson. She is probably sick of the Denny comparison already, but it will be made time and time again.
Following the lovely but brief All I Knew, the album kicks up a gear with Greener The Grass. This track breezes by on a lilting folk pop melody reminiscent of perennial cult favourites Over The Rhine, and is catchy enough to have already been released as a single earlier in the year.
The album’s best track Pilgrim’s Tale starts of as a sparse folk narrative straight out of the Fairport Convention songbook, before a mournful cello and strings guide the song to its fragile conclusion.
Strings are used sparingly throughout the album, lending in particular the climax of On My Mind a suitable gravitas that never strays into cloying sentimentality. The piano-led ballad Stalling, meanwhile, delivers its cautionary tale against a swelling backdrop of vocal harmonies, strings and brass.
The sombre mood that permeates the album is lifted towards the end with some welcome levity. The traditional-styled ballad Border Hills is positively buoyant, with bluesy harmonica, skittering drums and organ washes driving the song home. The jaunty folk-blues of Happiness is a showcase for Tasker’s best blues licks, with Macdonald doing her best to keep up.
Natural imagery abounds on the album’s final two tracks, On The River and The Earth & The Breeze, bringing the album to a suitably bucolic close. Macdonald is in particularly fine form on the latter, her ringing vocals lingering long after the album has finished.
Doghouse Roses have already enjoyed some fine reviews on the folk and country underground, and clearly command the respect of their peers. It is to be hoped that they gain some more widespread radio play on the strength of this excellent debut.