Album Reviews

Sam Morton – Daffodils & Dirt

(XL) UK release date: 14 June 2024

Not an easy listen, the autobiographical nature of Samantha Morton’s lyrics means that it’s often brutal. But chemistry like this is rare to find

Sam Morton - Daffodils & Dirt Samantha Morton has spent the last 30 years as one of the country’s most acclaimed actresses, while Richard Russell, best known as the head of acclaimed record label XL Recordings, has a background in producing down-tempo, atmospheric trip-hop electronica. They may not be the most likely duo to record an album together, but as Sam Morton the pair have unexpectedly produced one of the most startling albums of the year.

The germs of the project were sown when two-time Oscar nominee Morton appeared on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, which Russell happened to be listening to. Morton’s musical choices and recounting of her traumatic childhood experiences (she was made a ward of court at eight years old, and spent several years in foster care and children’s homes). Having contacted Morton initially to ask her permission to sample her voice, Daffodils & Dirt was born.

It is not a particularly easy listen. At times, it’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful, but the autobiographical nature of Morton’s lyrics means that it’s also dark and often brutal. Opening track Highwood House is a solemn spoken-word ode with some haunting vocals laid underneath, but it’s Hungerhill Road that properly introduces the album: a dark, brooding trip-hop soundscape that inevitably recalls Portishead. Morton’s voice is almost lullaby sweet until you pay attention to the lyrics: talk of “the smell of piss” and “hold me while I cry” means that the uneasy atmosphere doesn’t let up.

Jazz musician Alabaster DePlume appears on several tracks, including one of the album highlights Cry Without End – a gorgeously minimal ballad that brings to mind Angelo Badalamenti‘s classic Twin Peaks soundtrack: all gently brushed drums and angelic backing vocals. DePlume also adds some jazzy instrumentation to Let’s Walk In The Night, a mesmerising down-tempo ballad which suits Morton’s soft vocals perfectly.

Broxtowe Girl, named after the Nottingham estate which Morton grew up on in the 1980s is another remarkable track – beginning with Morton’s spoken word introduction telling us that “in one of the children’s homes I lived in, we used to riot” and her memories of singing along to UB40, which then morphs into a woozy dub ballad featuring none other than Ali Campbell on vocals. Given that it’s all a true story, it becomes an increasingly affecting listen.

There’s also a cover of The Little White Cloud That Cries, by 1950s crooner Johnnie Ray – immortalised by Dexys Midnight Runners of course as the man who “broke a million hearts in mono”. Morton’s take on his song is sure to break more hearts, a dreamy, low-key ballad. The fact that it sits next to the glitchy, nervy Kaleidoscope, which also features a rap section, just shows how many different facets Daffodils & Dirt has.

Morton will receive most of the attention, but Russell’s contribution should not be overlooked – his skill at transforming these childhood memories into an evocative, atmospheric whole is very impressive, and stands alongside his work with the likes of Gil Scott-Heron and Bobby Womack. Hopefully, Sam Morton won’t just be a one-off collaboration, as chemistry like this is rare to find: a second instalment would be most welcome.

buy Sam Morton MP3s or CDs
Spotify Sam Morton on Spotify

More on Sam Morton
Sam Morton – Daffodils & Dirt