Facebook Slider

Laura Cannell - Beneath Swooping Talons

  • Written by  Tom Bolton

If you didn’t realise you needed the ancient tones of the double recorder, or the deep groan of the over-bowed violin in your life, Laura Cannell’s new album will enlighten you. Appearing over the long horizons of The East Anglian Fens, last year’s Quick Sparrows Over the Black Earth made her name instantly as an unconventional, remarkably original musician. Cannell plays as though the dark soil she belongs to has burst into song. But, despite her affinity for rarely heard instruments, she is a contemporary composer improvising from traditional tunes. Although she clearly loves medieval music - its simplicity, its clarity, its tendency to leap from the harsh and the sweet - these tunes could not have been written five hundred years ago. They belong to our time, unmistakably urgent and experimental, played as though in dialogue with ancestors under the earth.

The opening track, ‘All The Land Ablaze’, suggests the sun rising over The Fens with expressive, stabbing fiddle phrases. It is optimistic and beautiful, but also restless and a little disconcerting. From the start, Beneath Swooping Talons side-steps easy classification. The underlying melody sounds like plainsong, but it is played in a style that is almost Balkan. It is undeniably modern composition, but entirely accessible too. This instantly recognisable sound, both new and old, is what made Quick Sparrows Over the Black Earth such a success.

Beneath Swooping Talons takes Cannell’s music a stage further, as she pushes into deeper, stranger territory. ‘Deers Bark’ does exactly what the title suggests, Cannell’s recorder trilling like a frightened beast, ululating across the wintry fields. ‘Cathedral of the Marshes’, an alternative name for Ely Cathedral, sees the fiddle impersonating a church organ, pressing long, sonorous chords which break up as the bow catches, as though being broadcast on a dying frequency.

By the time we reach ‘Be Not Afeard’, a quote from The Tempest, which concludes “The isle is full of strange noises”, it is hard to believe that all the music are hearing can be coming from one musician. Cannell’s over-bowing technique, loosening the bow hairs so that they cling to the strings, creates a drone effect a little like a bagpipe. The isle, in this case presumably the Isle of Ely, is a whirl of melancholy polyphony. ‘Conversing in a Dream’ shows off the capabilities of the amazing double recorder, which looks like two recorders stuck together at the mouth piece and sounds like an entire troupe of 14th century entertainers. ‘Cantiga’ - based on medieval Portuguese lyric poetry - is a jaunty wedding dance of a piece, while the final track, ‘Born from the Soil’, mixes the violin’s low tones into the black Cambridgeshire peat.

Laura Cannell says that “we build our own traditions… a place where we can be entirely ourselves.” She describes her music perfectly - at once familiar and strange, a collection of particular sounds that could only have come from her. She has created something that is truly original and therefore deeply satisfying, a special album.

Beneath Swooping Talons is available from Amazon and Bandcamp.

Rate this item
(2 votes)
Login to post comments
back to top