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BURD ELLEN A Tarot of the Green Wood CD/DL (Mavis Recordings)

Third album from Glasgow's Burd Ellen, centred around the duo of Debbie Armour who has worked with Alasdair Roberts and Green Ribbons, and Gayle Brogan aka Pefkin. The album is the first release from Debbie's new label Mavis Recordings, drawing its inspiration from the Tarot, with works predominantly based on traditional song which contain imagery also present in the Major Arcana. The album is beautifully presented, in a fold-out wallet with appealingly spooky hand-drawn art by Kieran Milne, the front cover enticing the viewer into a dark haunted wood, while the inner panels feature Tarot art with a dark, hallucinatory feel. Accompanying the CD is a set of seven Tarot cards in a black paper wallet, and a badge with the Mavis logo, the cute-but-macabre image of a cartoon bird corpse pierced through the heart.

The traditional songs are listed on the cover by Tarot card names, though seasoned folkies will recognise them and know their usual titles. Over the Hills and Far Away is a song that has awoken a distant memory from my childhood; almost certain I heard a family member sing it, or otherwise I may have learnt it in school assembly. Here it is retitled The Fool, setting the instantly recognisable words and music to a mix of humming drones and sparkling analogue synth effects. The High Priestess and the Hierophant (i.e. Fair Annie) has a chilling, filmic accompaniment replete with rumbling electronics and sweeping strings. The Lovers isn't a song I recognise from my explorations of folk music, though its "In the green wood" refrain suggests that is probably the original title. Perhaps the most experimental track here, the song is inventively accompanied by all manner of whirling, whooshing, underwater effects straight out of a horror film.

The Chariot (i.e. When I Was On Horseback) is a work of pure ethereal beauty, with reverb-drenched drones and angelic vocals, plus pipes courtesy of Lankum's Ian Lynch, adding to the haunting melancholy of the piece. Death is also not a familiar song for me though it feels like it should be. It has the feel of a medieval madrigal, with three-part vocals from Debbie, Gayle, and Mark Wardlaw (Kenosist), swathed in such reverb that the piece sounds as if it was recorded in a cathedral. The final track is an elongated, 14-minute cover of Alasdair Roberts' Under No Enchantment, representing The Star and The Moon. The first part accompanies a contemporary singer-songwriter piece with folk instruments, before segueing into a more traditional-sounding melody backed by woozy, eerie electronics punctuated by a discordant violin interlude, while the final section features a truly beautiful neoclassical piano melody.

One of the most inventive folk projects around right now, with highly effective juxtapositions of well-known historic songs and arcane experimentation. Visit burdellen.com and www.mavisrecordings.com


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