Cute, cute, cute. I’m so glad Kathryn Williams is on this planet. The northern lass keeps quiet as a mouse while her albums get snapped up by her dedicated fans and the few that are lucky enough to stumble upon her magical, fairy tale folk at festivals, the odd gig in a converted chapel or by word of mouth.
Two, her latest offering and in collaboration with Neill MacColl, has its ups and downs, but is mostly gorgeous. Her regional twang soaks every line she sings, like a more indie-influenced and ballsy Kate Rusby. Her songs are delicate and simple, but with something different – whether it’s using a subtle laugh, a darker bassline or a lone, ghostly trumpet, as in Grey Goes, with its eerie London pub piano and its jagged, scratchy strings.
Williams, a former Mercury prize nominee, is at her best when she does things a little differently to other artists in her field, like her fabulous 2004 covers album, Relations, with the best rendition of All Apologies that’s graced my ears. It makes her more Maconie material than Wogan.
So, the story goes that Williams and MacColl met when paired up to sing The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face at some folky fest (the song was written by MacColl’s father, Ewan MacColl). It was the start of a beautiful friendship and, although the song that united them doesn’t appear on the album, you sense that spark and chemistry. Their voices go well, but Williams’ little girl in a field of wild flowers loveliness is the one that shines through.
The album was recorded somewhere green and woody in just six days and produced by Phill Brown, who worked on Stairway to Heaven and with such artists as the Rolling Stones and Brian Eno. The additional musicians, Martyn Baker on percussion and Simon Edwards on bass, deserve a mention for their pivotal role in making Two sound so beautiful. They hadn’t even heard the songs when they arrived in the middle of quintessential England for the recording, but every instrument gels to create visions of jumping sheep and cycling to the brook. Understated drumming, sliding bass, soft harmonies – it’s as pretty as a picture.
It’s hard to pick a best bit from Two. It’s one you can just put on your player and drift away – with snippets of Hammond organ and brushed drums on Before It Goes, The 1.07 mins of All and the stunningly observational and poetic Holes In Your Life. If I was pushed, it would be the haunting beauty of Frame – voice, guitar, double bass. It just doesn’t get much better than that.