Some folk here might be familiar with the rootsy charms of Underhill Rose, a fine banjo and guitar duo who we have written about before and who we saw play an excellent set at last year’s Celtic Connections. Late last year Eleanor Underhill released a fine solo disc which really has slipped below the radar but it certainly deserves mention so here we go.
Navigate The Madness is a world away from the folky homeliness of Underhill Rose as Underhill uses an array of instruments along with her signature banjo over an inventive and intriguing musical backdrop. Along the way she is beguiling and hypnotic, some of the songs dark mysteries while others are infused with an almost Portishead like trippiness or come across like a new breed of folk rock similar to that of The Mammals. There’s a sense of the experimentation of Joanna Serrat and even John Martyn in the opening Imperfect World which acts as a doorway into this Eleanor in Wonderland album and by the time of the second song, Stranger Things Have Come, a voodoo infused chant with a rumbling and spooky bass line, we know we’re not in North Carolina anymore. A discordant piano appears midway through taking the listener further down this rabbit hole while a host of incidental instruments including celeste remind one of sixties spy movies and David Lynch like weirdness. Across this peculiar and ominous backdrop Underhill intones some bizarre and weirdly unsettling scenarios and this sense of being somewhat off kilter in the modern world is repeated elsewhere in the lyrics across the album.
Stranger Things Have Come is certainly the most unsettling song here but Underhill continues to confound expectations as the banjo led Hard To Find is suffused with wisps of synthesiser zooming around. Captured In Arms, another banjo led number starts off as if it’s Appalachian in origin but it soon kicks off with a thumping bass line driving it along and the impressive tale of life on the road on Before I Head West Again soars away in a sophisticated folk rock manner with Underhill’s voice here particularly impressive. Never Meant To Say Goodbye is another impressive ensemble piece with the double bass standing out while Underhill’s voice performs some acrobatic leaps but best of all is the cinematic torch song Cold Wind Blues where a blowsy saxophone and exotic Latin tinged rhythm section merge into a kaleidoscopic swirl which recalls the work of the Italian band Sacro Cuori delving into the sixties heritage of Eurobeat. Finally, Into The Unknown is another song which defies expectations as it folds old time banjo, field hollers and jazz and blues signatures into an almost lysergic amalgam.
It might be a far cry from the porch front style of Underhill Rose but here Eleanor Underhill has delivered a magnificently eclectic album which pushes the boundaries of what we usually call Americana