Nancy Elizabeth – Wrought Iron

nancyeSometimes a chance meeting can provide for discovery after discovery. Such is the case with the music of Nancy Elizabeth. She is a young singer-songwriter from Manchester (UK), but to label her as just or mainly a ‘singer-songwriter’ would not do her work justice. We’ll try to explain as we embark upon an unexpected journey, accompanied by her eleven self-penned songs on Wrought Iron (2009).

Nancy Elizabeth debuted in 2005 with the EP ‘The Wheel Turning King’, followed by a debut album ‘Battle and Victory’ (2007) that was classified as neo folk, perhaps equally unjust as being pinned down as a singer-songwriter. It’s true, she sings and she writes songs, but she’s also a multi-instrumentalist who plays the piano, guitar, harp, bouzouki, Indian harmonium, Appalachian dulcimer (zither), glockenspiel and an antique Dulcitone. Even her vocal chords are used as an instrument rather than to pose as the most conspicuous vessel carrying her provocative compositions.

Every reviewer falls in the trap of seeking comparison when describing something authentic and original. Nancy Elizabeth has been compared to PJ Harvey, Nick Drake and Steve Reich, to name just a few. And yes, her music breathes minimalism and repetition. Her music may be tinged in a certain sadness, or contemplative solitude so you prefer. Without a doubt it’s compelling. There’s beauty in every quiet moment she evokes and hands to the listener, as a gesture of giving voice to silence, how paradoxal this may seem.

And to add to the list of comparison, I’d say Simeon ten Holt (Dutch composer), or Sandy Denny. Maybe even some Suzanne Vega. But I will look no further!

The album itself. It opens with Cairns, an instrumental tune that welcomes you as a visitor into Elizabeth’s world, kind of dreamy and on higher planes. Bring On The Hurricane excels in repetitive rhythm, melody and chords but builds to an outburst that disappears as quickly as it emerges. Elizabeth sings of life, survival and experiencing the energy of it all. The song is followed by Tow The Line which gives the impression that the first three tracks belong together, serving as an ouverture to Feet Of Courage (available as a single) that paints a different mood, leading the listener to another level of the introspective. Divining is a proclamation of autumn while Cat Bells allows the listener some time to wander off alone in the Avalon of Nancy Elizabeth.

Because that’s what her music brings to mind. You’re a passenger on a small boat, surrounded by mist and at first nothing but the sound of water as the boat gently eases on. You can’t see a thing and never have when the journey ends and the boatsman returns you to the mainland. But you’ve heard and experienced a lot just the same. Perhaps it were the voices of mermaids, sirens or elves. Perhaps you were a witness to the cycles of life and nature that happens beyond our knowledge and sight. They nevertheless happen.

Canopy, the seventh track on Wrought Iron continues on the path of repetition, but it ends with the sudden appearance of a trumpet that pictures a jazzclub in some back street alley after closing time. It offers a whole new palette for Elizabeth’s color scheme, one she also uses in the next song, Lay Low.

The Act, Ruins and the final track Winter, Baby all three add to the belief that there’s power in the repetitive movement, stillness and narration such as conveyed by Nancy Elizabeth on her second album. Not that we’re impatient and have already had enough of Wrought Iron, but since she takes her craft to more matured levels whenever a new album is born, we can only wonder what comes next. So we enjoy the anticipation in advance, and let it add to the listening pleasure of a journey that is destined to always bring you more than you’ll expect…

[click here for a session on Dutch radio]
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