Purity. There is not much of it about in the modern world. In fact, there seems a conscious effort to move away from purity towards distortion, clumping amalgamation and cloying over-decoration. It is so all-pervasive that one only notices all this impurity when comes across something entirely pure, like a child’s eyes, or a folk tune.

Soprano Jane Sheldon has gone for purity on her new independently-released album ‘North+South: Ten Folk Songs’. From the top down this collection of songs from The British Isles and the United States (North), and Australia (South) has been built with simplicity and clarity in mind. And it is a pure delight.

New-York based Sheldon has a voice that is stunningly luminous. It is like a clear light in the dark of the void. As weightless as light, yet as penetrating, it makes all ten songs simply glow. The spare and beautifully held accompaniments of the Acacia String Quartet or Genevieve Lang’s harp seem often barely there, sometimes only a slipstream behind that voice or a halo around it.

The arrangements of the songs are so effective that they tie together a collection that is, at first look, disparate: Irish folk, Berio, The Go-Betweens, Benjamin Britten. But music is music, good music is good music, so we move seamlessly from the gorgeous ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ (the loveliest version I have heard since Alan Stivell’s 1973 ‘From Celtic Roots’ recording), to the convict lament ‘Moreton Bay’, to Sheldon’s sentiment-free arrangement of ‘The Dying Stockman’– taking the corn out and infusing the old thing with some real emotive depth.

Her selection, arrangement and treatment of the Go-Between’s literate and lovely ‘Cattle and Cane’ is a smart one. A song as evocative of time and place as any other piece on here, its nostalgic summer-haze is perfectly distilled by Sheldon and the Acacia Quartet.

Of the North+South project Jane Sheldon says “Once we started, it became apparent that stories told by immigrants, fragments of the lyrics and melodies had traversed the globe and belonged to more than one nation’s folk history… We opened up the program to include, for example, Britten’s arrangement of an Appalachian song. ‘I Will Never Marry’ is an English song set by two American interpreters in different centuries, which influenced my own arrangement.”

The lightness of Sheldon’s ‘I Will Never Marry’ – as did many other selections here – brought to mind the archaic term for a tune or song – an ‘air’. ‘North+South: Ten Folk Songs’ is as light as air, as light as sunlight and a little oasis of purity in a dim-lit, noise-clogged world. A pure delight.

Published November 2012 on megaphoneoz.com



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