Album Reviews

Marry Waterson & Oliver Knight – The Days That Shaped Me

(FatCat) UK release date: 28 March 2011

The Days That Shaped Me is the d´┐Żbut release from the brother and sister combo of Marry Waterson and Oliver Knight, and it has been long awaited. For the initiated, their mother was Lal Waterson, the singer and experimental songwriter who died in 1998. On top of this they have Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy as aunt and uncle, and Eliza Carthy as a cousin, so their heritage is significant. One would expect an album made by the siblings to be a homage to their mother, and a demonstration of ability held by one of the most important dynasties in British folk.

For the large part, the duo fulfil this expectation. Much of the song writing imitates the style of their mother, and there’s the odd tribute song, such as Rose. There are also number of other folk dignitaries who have leant a hand. James Yorkston and Kathryn Williams both appear, Williams having co-written the opening track Father Us, Eliza Carthy also makes a contribution. It would not be without a precedent to declare this as a big folk tribute album, only really holding relevance to the die hard fans, and the sentimental.

This isn’t really a fair assessment, because The Days That Shaped Me is a strong album even aside from its context. Falling into a wealth of different genres, elements of blues, jazz, indie rock as well as folk can be found within. Despite an occasional propensity to drag on a little bit, and become boring during the slower songs there’s enough variety here to keep the listener interested and energised throughout. While naturally, the default position of the duo is to lean towards the folkier side of things, it’s refreshing to see them take a more adventurous approach to song writing.

But the album does not just draw its strengths from diversity, there are some genuinely excellent touches here. Marry takes centre stage for most of the album, and she holds it very well. She has a good, if unremarkable voice, which is complementary to the rest of the music. While the songs may shift in style, they are usually lush and melodic bringing a large range of instruments to create a large, homely sound. It’s all very well played, perhaps lacking a certain flair or inspiration, but ultimately it feels comfortable. While this is the first time the siblings have actually recorded material together, The Days That Shaped Me appears as if the duo are feeling entirely at ease with one another. The family history between the two of them is evident as they manage to make very accomplished and mature music.

It would seem then that The Days That Shaped Me is a piece of work befitting of its legacy, but it never quite manages to move past enjoyable. While there are many excellent elements, Marry Waterson and Oliver Knight never manage to truly impress the listener. The music is happy to leap out and grab your attention, but it never really sounds anything but comfortable and at ease. While this is one of the strong points of the album, conversely the duo never move out of their comfort zone. It would not be unreasonable to accuse them of lacking a certain flourish or gusto. It’s difficult to dislike what has been produced here, as it has so many strong points, but it’s difficult to envisage ever really loving it.

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Marry Waterson & Oliver Knight – The Days That Shaped Me