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Review – Northern Skies

Review of Northern Skies – Rebekah Findlay (Ted Records TEDRFCD001)
By Neil McFadyen | © May 23 2010

Rebekah Findlay’s independantly released debut album, Northern Skies, is a mix of self-penned and traditional songs that showcase a multi-talented artist.
The opening track, Far From Home, suggests we’re in for a mellow journey with a gentle but confident guitar providing lovely rich tones, alongside light, airy vocals. It’s soon clear, though, that Rebekah is not shy about adding some power to her voice and you begin to get a taste of what this album has to offer. A quick check of the sleeve notes reveals that Rebekah plays, guitar, fiddle and accordion. The fiddle in this track hints at a higher level of skill and imaginative flair, and you’re left feeling she has more to offer in that direction. A very promising start to the album.
In Luskentyre by the sea we’re introduced to Rebekah’s accordion playing and what’s to become a recurring seashore / maritime theme. This track also provides our first hearing of brother Ben’s rich harmonies, which are used to great effect in several tracks. Hearing these two sing together lends further weight to the theory that siblings’ voices are well matched.
WB Yeats is a popular choice with musicians. The Song of a Wandering Aengus has been expertly adapted for this album by Rebekah. In this track Chris Davison’s use of the ebow becomes an essential element of this highly atmospheric album.
I Wish cites unspecified traditional sources for lyrics. Among the more obvious elements, (I wish, I wish etc) What really made me sit up and take notice was a line from a song by Lizzie Higgins, used by Martyn Bennett in Grit. This might not be Rebekah’s source but it made me smile. This song is performed by Rebekah and that beautifully rich guitar sound, an indication that a solo performance would be well worth seeing. Again, the song builds to a passionate vocal delivery as Rebekah adopts the role of deflowered maiden. I Wish is followed by Viking Blood, a lively love song about a son of the soil who can’t get used to life in the city.
The sea shanty that introduces In Stone (Haul in the bowline), is contributed by Zeke Deighton & Burneston Folk Club Singers. This powerful song deals with the ancient topic of families mourning men lost at sea, and the pain felt when there’s no grave to mark. ‘Bring him home/ bring his soul/ write his name down in stone’. This song typifies Rebekah’s strength as a songwriter, which I’ve failed to mention so far only because I’ve been so swept away by the other elements of the album. The vocals are filled with passion, revealing a bluesy side to her performance.
Rather than an outright anti-war song, Pipes & Drum seems to deal with the historical, personal reasons for going to war. The song is sung from the point of view of the ancient warrior classes and their need for battle. It also hints at the need of these same men to drag or encourage the common foot soldier into battle with them.
Rebekah’s rendition of The Blacksmith is one of the finest I’ve heard. The atmospheric instrumentation, led by carefully layered fiddle, provides an excellent backdrop to her theatrical vocal delivery, with its unorthodox timings and passionate expression.
Duty Bound won the Klondike Song Of The Year trophy and concerns the solitary existence of the lighthouse keeper. The song features Ian Glover on mandolin. In Lady of the Lake Rebekah adds a twist to Arthurian legend. Then in Harbour Wall we return to a more standard (but no less enjoyable) love song.
To close the album we’re treated to another standard, Scarborough Fair. Again, the arrangement is original in its approach and compelling. Rebekah succeeds more than most in telling the tale of impossible tasks laid down for a potential suitor. Her multi-layered fiddle is again in evidence and brings the album to stirring conclusion.
…not quite though – we’re also treated to a bonus track in the form of Chris Wood’s re-write of Out Come The Freaks (originally created in several versions by Was not Was). A highly enjoyable bonus it is too.

Yesterday I hadn’t heard of Rebekah Findlay. Today I’m left in no doubt that she’s a skilled songwriter, musician, arranger and graphic artist (the artwork on the CD is her own).

Her song-writing is evocative, reflective and often thought-provoking. Her musical arrangements show a willingness to experiment and refine a piece until it suits her range of styles. Her musicianship throughout the Northern Skies is of the highest standard.

A quick check of Rebekah Findlay’s appearances at Ryedale Folk Weekend (28th/29th/30th/31st May 2010) show a string of afternoon sets. I’m sure this release will raise her profile as word spreads, so it could well be worth getting along to enjoy her music in a more intimate setting while you still have the chance. If Northern Skies is anything to go by, you’d be in for a treat.

By Neil McFadyen | © May 23 2010 | Folk Radio UK