A Broken Consort, Crow Autumn (Tompkins Square); Autumn Grieve, Stray Birds (Corbelstone Press)

Crow AutumnStray Birds

The version of A Broken Consort’s Crow Autumn just released by Tompkins Square is a new version of Richard Skelton’s Crow Autumn, or rather it’s a new version of the Crow Autumn and Crow Autumn 2 recordings (previously released on his own Sustain Release label), reworked into a cohesive and well-balanced whole, with a new piece on the end. While I’ve already eulogised about the Crow Autumn 2 tracks, their successful repackaging and recontextualising here as part of a bigger work makes the new LP edition a must-have for me. In marked contrast to this dense instrumental fare, the music and poetry label which Skelton runs with Canadian singer-songwriter Autumn Grieve has just released a marvellous and delicate slice of folk music by Grieve; one which should have appeal beyond those with an interest in the Skelton catalogue.

It was under the A Broken Consort name that Skelton released his Box Of Birch masterpiece (although even that was probably topped by the recent Landings), and Crow Autumn continues down the same dark, thicketed path. Raw violin drones drift slowly, snagging additional layers of strings (and earth, and wood), parting to reveal elegiac themes, which are worked to the point of fragmentation. The original Crow Autumn was one haunting twenty-minute track, full of ghostly echo and traces of voice, but here it has been pared down to half of that length and divided into three sections. It serves as a gradual lead-in to the bracing heights of the latter part of the album, the hopeful “Day Reveals” giving way to the quivering, weeping “A Mercy Kill”. After this, the three (previously) Crow Autumn 2 tracks have an unsettling intensity, feeling like an obsessive revisiting of old ground, still digging for meaning, walking in circles in search of an elusive release. Scraped violin lines repeat and repeat and repeat, while a piano remorselessly marks time in the background. It builds to a crescendo during the centrepiece “The River”, in which a cello wails a three note phrase across the moors, before gradually descending back down. There is no better guide to these landscapes, physical and emotional, than Richard Skelton.

I recently took possession of another intriguing package: an edition of 31, personalised, wrapped in straw, sealed with wax, containing music and a book of poetry. Despite outward appearances, this isn’t a new Richard Skelton album, although he has added piano and strings to it – and, clearly had some input into the packaging. This is a new album by Autumn Grieve on her and Skelton’s Corbelstone Press label. Packaging aside, if it weren’t for that nagging, tolling piano in “Within Hollows”, and an occasional violin squeak, you wouldn’t have guessed Skelton was involved at all. Understated arrangements rightly leave the focus on the voice of Canadian singer-songwriter Grieve, a voice which tends to the gossamer-light end of the folk spectrum – I’ve read comparisons to Sandy Denny, but Linda Perhacs or Vashti Bunyan would be closer to the mark (luckily, I’m a big fan of both). Stray Birds is the second release in an elemental suite, focusing loosely this time on air, after the earth of Terra Infinita, and the six tracks have a suitably open, minimalist feel to them. In fact, the more minimalist the better, as the sparsest piece on here, “Shades” is the most affecting, Grieve’s fragile voice leaping up to hang on some delicate high notes. I’m conscious of the fact that I’ve done Grieve some disservice by lazily bolting this review onto the back of something about a very different Skelton piece: this is something worthy of investigation on its own beguiling terms.

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