Pulling Threads is the charming début album from Irish singer, Michelle Burke, who is currently lead singer with the long established group, Cherish The Ladies. The album offers a collection of beautifully arranged material, wrapped up in an assured femininity. Produced by Lau's Aidan O'Rourke, and featuring an array of the finest musicians from the Scottish folk scene, Pulling Threads leaves nothing to chance, with arrangements that embrace the material's folk roots without shying away from more creative leanings. Classy piano melodies sit alongside unpretentious acoustic guitar, with occasional luscious string arrangements, all perfectly understated, and contributing perfectly to the art of both singer and writer.
The star attraction is of course Burke's effortless and placid voice, with its distinctive Irish diction. You really get the impression that Burke is holding plenty back here, and that she could really belt out a tune should she wish. Instead we hear beautifully reserved and refined vocal performances, with Burke exploring subtle nuances in both the melodies and pronunciation of the lyrics.
Burke's keen ear for a good song pays dividends throughout. "Hey Mama," by Edinburgh song writer Sandy Wright, is the perfect blend of tenderness, heartache and hopelessness, with the harmonies of Karine Polwart and Kris Drever lending a rousing, spiritual chorus. Burke's lead vocals ensure that this story of a death row inmate is treated with utmost dignity, painting a harrowing picture of despair and regret. With the right exposure, this song might well be Burke's calling card.
Songs by esteemed writers such as Bob Dylan and Tom Waits also get Burke's sensitive treatment. Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" is successfully tamed and its full poetic beauty is realised with Burke's evocative reading over a fluid piano. Waits' "Broken Bicycles" is treated to a more fragmented arrangement that gives a haunting edge, befitting of the lyrics, and allowing Burke to turn in a vocal performance laced with a pensive torment.
Burke's measured expressiveness lends itself well to traditional material, and the opening track, "Molly Bawn," is much enlightened by her lucid interpretation, evoking the stark and brutal tragedy of the story. In contrast, while not being traditional, although dating from the late nineteenth century, "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen" finds Burke at her most tender, with a heartfelt reading over Kris Drever's acoustic guitar that rescues the song from its habitually clichéd associations.
Pulling Threads celebrates the emergence of an impressive interpreter of songs, that will likely have song writers around the globe queueing up to get the Burke treatment. I think I want to hear her have a crack at every song in my CD collection!
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