Published on December 3rd, 2015 | by Mike Ainscoe0
AMY DUNCAN – ‘UNDERCURRENTS’
(Filly Records CD001)
Released on her own Filly Record label and due out in February 2016, ‘Undercurrents’ has been labelled Amy Duncan’s highly anticipated fifth album. A name which might not be familiar to many, yet an artist who can boast the support of Calum Malcolm (of Blue Nile and Prefab Sprout fame) on production, and Creative Scotland for financially backing the album. It also features long time collaborator and musical buddy, Fiona Rutherford on harp, along with string players from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, plus Lawrie MacMillan and Liam Bradley providing a rhythm section which has graced the likes of Stiltskin (remember ‘Inside’?), Van Morrison and Ronan Keating. Basically, not a bad line up at all.
The anticipation of a set of short acoustic based songs, which might seem to be folky in feel, may be due to the nature of the instruments, yet not necessarily in content, belies what a more detailed listen to the album reveals. Amy seems to be pushing the boundaries of acoustic music and embellishing it with the delights of all manner of subtle strings and beyond.
Her voice brings to mind a couple of Sonic Bandwagon favourites; the soft quality of Cara Dillon and the airy brightness of Folkstock’s star young pupil, Kelly Oliver, while some of the gentle and considered arrangements have that sort of quality you’d associate with The Unthanks. But enough of the comparisons, reference points and FFO’s (for fans of…). It’s Amy Duncan who’s at the heart of the record. Not just the voice, but the arrangements, guitars, piano and double bass adding up to provide fuel for the maxim that if you want a job doing properly do it yourself.
Along with ‘Lights In Houses’, ‘The Good Life’ is one of those Unthanks moments. Far from being a tribute to Tom, Barbara, Jerry & Margo, its release as a single is perhaps an indication that she feels it’s the one track which represents the sound of ‘Undercurrents’ and what to expect from the rest of the material. The alternative single shows off another facet. ‘Different Dimensions’ with its emphasis on the strings and rumbling percussion, is based on a narrative of souls or spirits never meeting, conjuring up images of communication across a divide never to be breached. In a word, haunting.
‘No Harvest’ is the ‘Kelly’ song – gentle picking and even a couple of power chords buried in the mix until she lets loose with the electric axe complete with some fuzz and distortion. Interesting! ‘All The Love’ starts with the voice floating on a bed of distant piano and what sounds like backward tapes before what sounds like a drum machine pattern fades into the background. With some subtle double tracking on the voice, which again talks of crossing the great divide (maybe a theme coming through)the more experimental nature of some of the material starts to become apparent.
It may even be that the album grows in stature as it winds towards the title track which closes the album in a pulsing (as in gentle rhythm rather than electronic throb) glide of percussion and cascade of guitar, and the growing influence of the string section. It’s an assured and delicately confident close, leaving the feeling that ‘Undercurrents’ may well what many will call a box of delights – a bit of a hidden gem which is from the outset an appealing listen and a record which grows in stature.