Review of Dancing Album by Nancy Elizabeth

Nancy Elizabeth certainly seems like an artist who prefers not to be rushed. Hot on the heels - that is, if you believe a four year gestation period is a riskily brief one - of her last album Wrought Iron, Dancing sees her continue a relationship with the wonderful Leaf label which again confirms her as one of British folk's most overlooked talents.

Nancy Elizabeth Dancing Album

Perhaps this is because her music rarely stays true directly to one genre or another, her muse settling like a butterfly on one fleeting inspiration after the next, teasing new forms and textures from a resplendent, baroque background. Each of the three releases to date have seen her using environments which have contributed to their respective atmospheres; this time the studio was the singer's Manchester flat, one which she admits is "Stuffed" with different instruments. If sometimes artists need the separation that movement between home and studio brings in order to become their performing selves, this dislocation it seems isn't necessary. In turn, Dancing is possibly the most complete reflection of Nancy Elizabeth yet; a happy-go-lucky existence she once summed up in interview by stating, "I am completely myself. I believe that my life is perfect as it is, with all its flaws and foibles".

Unsurprisingly, for an artist who refuses to be a slave to fortune or formula, Dancing has a poise and self-assurance which Wrought Iron, at times, lacked in its otherwise long list of admirable qualities. Opener 'The Last Battle' begins in the cod-operatic style of an Angelo Balamenti spaghetti western, before then neatly seguing into a more panoramic tale of love seeking love. Throughout, this is music as opposite to what we might have regarded as folk as the Mumfords are, almost the other side of the sun. 'Mexico', for instance, doesn't so much push boundaries as dance barefoot over them, the singer's voice at the same time rustic and otherworldly on a song whose distorted sounds speak to bold intentions.

If this sounds like challenging listening, perhaps the neatest trick Dancing pulls off is that at all times it remains somewhere anchored in a dimension somewhere near you; 'Early Sleep' brews restlessly on caressed strings, 'Raven City' occupies the space once owned by Tori Amos and constantly feels like it wants to soar, whilst 'All Mouth' dispenses with her familiar array of acoustic instrumentation, instead using icy cut up samples to make a refreshingly odd, atonal noise.

It isn't a surprise to find out that the almost title track 'Simon Says Dance' has very little to do with the act itself but instead is a cerebral take on the thought of it; the house, however, is brought down ever so gently on 'Death In A Sunny Room', a half instrumental that eddies in forever darkening concentric circles. The body is never discovered: like most of the rest of this delightful odyssey, everything remains ambiguous, left up to the listener's imagination, like in practice nearly all of its counterparts. In relative terms, this is a record that requires of the consumer many of the qualities which the modern world has sacrificed - patience, empathy, perspective - but is good enough to waive them all. On it, the Lancastrian shines again, a bard to celebrate, and no mistake.  

Andy Peterson

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