Lucy Ward is a wavelength artist who will lure and mesmerise those tuned into her stimulating and progessive approach to music, although art is a more appropriate word. Praise has not been in short supply for the Derbyshire based artist and I DREAMT I WAS A BIRD will surely follow in the wake of the 25 year old’s previous two albums. The prestigious BBC Radio 2 Folk awards have already recognised her prodigious and innovative talent in multiple categories. Lucy, with the help of her assembled team of players and the production stewardship of Stu Hanna, has served up a sumptuous serving of nine diverse songs, spanning the breadth of her imagination and influences. Together they package into a mystical world of left field artistry and a record straining every sinew of your aural capacity.
My frequency connection with the waves of Lucy Ward occurred earlier this year during a live show and has been totally sealed after delving deep into the realms of the new record. In a sincere act of experimental folk, Lucy has chosen eight original compositions for the album plus an interesting version of the much sung border ballad ‘Lord Randall’. The result is a compelling listen, forever testing the endurance of the listener in terms of mental stimulation making this not a record for the faint ear. There is an earthy beauty within the vocals of Lucy, frequently infiltrated with a hint of North Midland’s brogue. There are times on this record when the sheer elegance shines brightly and others when the breath is held as boundaries are expertly tested.
‘Song for Lola’ is the beautiful ballad acoustically anchored to the mid part of the record which reveals the gorgeous state of Lucy’s vocal range, but the heavyweight tracks in the first half of the record succeed in making the greater profound impact. Lucy is emerging as a passionate social commentator as witnessed by the rhetoric at her shows, following her online profile and observing her presence on the protest album LAND OF HOPE AND FURY. The commissioning role of penning a song based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South led Lucy to spin around the concept of rich and poor with ‘Creatures and Demons’ being the sparkling result. The vocals soar on this piece as the B3 organ kicks in towards the latter stages of the track. The line ‘profit mad master’ is just an introduction to the fiery side of Lucy’s protest stance.
The other heavyweight song on the album is the immensely impressive ‘Lion’ where with the help of the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, Lucy dramatically re-surfaces the story of a World War 1 execution for cowardice. Robert Loveless Barker gets the send-off he deserves a hundred years after this hideous crime and one uncovered following a visit to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. The dramatic score adds to the sense of drama and represents a mood inducing production, often subtle in places and always signposting the listener to the feelings of the song.
Back to the characters and issues in a short while, but at this moment it’s worth mentioning the opening and closing tracks which both hark back to the fundamental features of the land and climate. ‘Summers That We Made’ is a haunting and delightful introduction to the record with the violin excelling. ‘Return to Earth’ has a more sincere message at the end of the album with the line ‘we are choking I can no longer sing’ leaving food for thought from this environmental piece.
Two of the final three tracks have their inspiration closer to home for Lucy. ‘Daniel and the Mermaid’ is a true family sighting of a mermaid many years ago off the shore of Scotland with an invitation to free your mind a little and connect with the eye of the beholder. The album’s title is a line lifted from this song which possesses eerie and gothic tendencies in its haunting and experimental capacity. ‘Ode to Whittaker Brown’ is a more temperate song in the album number two slot and is based on her own mother’s upbringing in the post war dwelling of a Nissen Hut. Not family linked but further social commentary concludes the album in ‘Connie and Bud’ with Lucy once again highlighting the role of life’s underdogs.
I DREAMT I WAS A BIRD is a wonderful piece of theatrical music making. Consistently rooted in the folk tradition of story-telling and flowing with instrumentation such as harmonium, violin, concertina and piano, this record has a beckoning and addictive appeal. Checking into the wavelength of Lucy Ward is a beguiling experience and immersing into the mystical and radical word of her artistic creativity leads to endless riches.