This third album from folk artist Maz O’Connor finds her leaving the world of traditional songs behind, heading instead on a musical odyssey, a journey from youth to adulthood if you will. O’Connor has written a brace of songs which open with several that can refer to leaving home while the closing songs see her finding her own two feet. In between she writes about two historical figures, women betrayed, inspired by paintings of them in the National Portrait Gallery. It’s a warm and woody sort of album, cello, harmonium and double bass comforting although there are some sublime pedal steel moments (courtesy of Chris Hillman, no, not that one, this is CJ Hillman from Manchester) and on one occasion some clangorous guitar. The songs are guitar or piano based, the latter at times recalling the work of Judee Sill, indeed the album as a whole rarely has any sense of Albion’s folk tradition coming across instead as a continuation of the sixties and early seventies singer/songwriter tradition. O’Connor’s voice, a fine instrument in itself, aids and abets this comparison as she occasionally switches octaves like a young Joni Mitchell particularly in the opening bars of A Rose.
Produced by Jim Moray (who plays several instruments here) the album flows well, the avowed journey from youth to now not immediately apparent nor necessary for the listener’s enjoyment. Instead, it can be relished as a somewhat sumptuous wallow in burbling bass and rippling guitar, woody cello and comforting keyboards. A brief intro leads into The Longing Kind, a crystal clear teardrop of a song which is followed by the wonderful travelogue of A Winter’s Blues, O’Connor painting a vivid portrait of rainy days and an escape to Italy over an hypnotic backing, the double bass (from Matt Downer) gently pushing the song along amid O’Connor’s fine guitar lines. Crook Of His Arm builds on this, the sound fleshed out by percussion, cello and pedal steel but with the same heartbeat, O’Connor’s words quite sublime as she sings of leaving home with a bittersweet sense of regret and defiance, her vocals here unrestrained. Mother Make My Bed is an adolescent carouse and the one most reminiscent of O’Connor’s northern roots, the trumpet reminiscent of brass bands, the sing-along strum redolent of Cumbrian get togethers. It segues into the folk rock balladry of Greenwood Side, a song written and performed much in the manner of Fairport and Steeleye Span with guitar solos and with an affiliation to the traditional song The Cruel Mother.
Emma marks the appearance of O’Connor’s piano playing and the song inhabits that pained world epitomised by Judee Sill while Jane Gray recalls Joni Mitchell well before she discovered jazz. These songs act as an interlude before the quintet which closes the album with O’Connor looking at her relationships since stepping out into the world. Billy Waters has a spring in its step as O’Connor salutes a fellow musician, Coming Back Again is a simple affair, guitar and vocal only with a purity reminiscent of Greenwich Village folkies as O’Connor relates a doomed affair. There’s an elemental touch to A Quiet Word with O’Connor evoking the sea and the weather on another love song before she launches into the beguiling emotional awakening that is A Rose, the highlight of the album. O’Connor wraps the album up with the mildly rambunctious When The Whiskey Runs Dry which finds her coming to terms with her past.
As we said above, The Longing Kind is an album to savour, the songs unveiling like the layers of an onion as you delve in, the playing excellent and O’Connor marking her place as a songwriter and singer of note.