Review of Nancy Elizabeth's album Wrought Iron released on The Leaf Label.
The hey-nonny-nonny brigade haven't had it this good since the era of The Floral Dance and Pam Ayres. First beardy wizards Fleet Foxes have taken their hirsute baroque chamber pop global. Every bijou studio apartment you visit seems to have a Laura Marling CD perched just so on the coffee table, and Noah And The Whale seem about to storm the gates of the establishment armed with just an accordion and some rolling tobacco.
Twenty seven year old Nancy Elizabeth Cunliffe hails from Wigan, the home of Orwell, pill-popping Northern Soul all nighters and rugby league. This backdrop probably goes a long way towards explaining why Wrought Iron - her second album, following on from 2007's Battle & Victory - was recorded Bon Iver-style, in the solitude of North Wales and The Faroe Islands.
It's a sense of dislocation which has done her music the power of good. Gone is most of the ephemera which rendered her debut interesting, but just a flat cap to the wrong side of niche. Now operating in an environment of greater freedom both of thought and song, the results showcase both a delicacy of touch and inherent power which revel in this more accessible context. After the naked piano opener Cairns, Bring On The Hurricane encapsulates the change succinctly, as multi-tracked harmonies emphasise a feel of bluesy rusticism that echoes a stripped down, classic era Fleetwood Mac. The Leaf label she's signed to was also the sometime home of eccentric Japanese ambient composer Susumu Yokota, and her collaborative work with both him and the likes of Efterklang is richly observed in the ethereal dreaminess of Cat Bells.
Wisely there's still enough for early converts to identify with, as both Tow The Line and Lay Low are graceful and rootsy without being cliched. But the overwhelming impression is one of change, catharsis and fulfillment. The Act is a brooding murder ballad, driven on by a cackling semi-acoustic that rocks like garrotting wire that's joined by a mocking harmonica which sounds like sunset crows on a telephone line. It may the best song Polly Harvey never wrote, a conclusion echoed in closer Winter Baby, which seems to be its guilty, blood-soaked twin, lonely/sparse and imbued with a childlike dreaminess that suggests Venice, water and scarlet nightmares.
Wrought Iron is a classic illustration of how ostensibly greater simplicity delivers only something more complex, and in this case more beautiful. Nancy Elizabeth may now be a paradox too far for those of a hurdy-gurdy persuasion, but this means she's all ours. And I'll drink a flagon of mead to that.