Nature tells us that several things prefer to travel in packs – London Buses and folk artists named Laura being two such examples. The latest to join the Laura pantheon is Miss Laura J Martin, a highly talented flautist whose genre-crossing work so far has built up a respectable buzz of anticipation for this debut album.
The Hangman Tree is a snappy collection of off-kilter folk songs that are sure to please those who’ve already heard her, but the vocals will certainly divide her audience. Some people will warm to Martin’s pixieish approach, citing it as the voice of a shimmering angel, but others will be equally valid in saying it’s as sickly sweet and kooky as a barrel-load of Zooey Deschanels running wild in a candy floss factory. That image aside, Martin’s voice is best described as a cross between Kate Bush and Cerys Matthews, but where their vocals feel more organic it sounds like Martin’s voice is deliberately affected and there’s barely a hint of her native scouse roots to be heard. The overly wispy approach can also be a little limiting and while there’s plenty of varied instrumentation taking place, the vocals feel like they’re stuck in a rut with the fairies at the bottom of the garden.
One area where listeners are not likely to sit on the fence is her skills as a flautist. Obvious and welcome comparisons have been made with Jethro Tull. Martin also plays the mandolin and uses loops in percussion to great effect. Some of these tracks sound amazing – not least Spy with its broad hints of jazz flute (watch out Ron Burgundy) and her skills shine through despite the controversial vocals- The track also appears to be the first recorded folk cut to heavily feature ninjas. Elsewhere there are other pleasingly odd references in the lyrics that prick up your ears- for instance Superman III is bizarrely name-checked in highlight Tom.
Fans of a certain age will love the clockwork stylings of Silent Maria, a track that will remind you of the theme music to most of the BBC’s 1970s childrens output (Bagpuss’ shop anyone?). Euros Childs guests as well and their duet is one of those moments where the album’s ingredients combine most effectively.
A small amount could be trimmed here and there, not least Buck65’s appearance on Kissabye Goodnight. Martin has dabbled with hip-hop mixed with folk in the past, but the crossover here seems awkward. There’s no doubting Martin’s versatility as an instrumentalist and she’s recently cited the imagination of Merrill Garbus as inspiration – if she decides to go further down the tUnE-yArDs route she could definitely be one to watch, but this album feels too trapped in the cul-de-sac of psych-folk, without letting Martin truly rip with different styles.
Big trees grow from little acorns and The Hangman Tree is certainly a decent sapling with plenty to like, but the love or loathe vocals mingle with the predominantly wonky atmosphere to prevent this from being a mighty oak.