Albums round up: Diversions 4: The Songs and Poems of Molly Drake by The Unthanks; Americana by Ray Davies; Wild Waters by Maia; The Age of Anxiety by Pixx

Diversions 4: The songs and poems of Molly Drake by The Unthanks
Diversions 4: The songs and poems of Molly Drake by The Unthanks
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Interest in the songs and poems of the late Molly Drake has grown considerably since a couple of home recordings surfaced among the work of her son Nick and daughter Gabrielle on the 2007 compilation album Family Tree.

Here the Northumberland folk group The Unthanks – who comprise sister Rachel and Becky and Rachel’s husband Adrian McNally – explore the best of her oeuvre with help from actress Gabrielle Drake.

It’s a well matched artistic marriage, with Rachel and Becky Unthank’s soft, sensuous tones ideal for interpreting Molly’s wistful and sometimes wry observations.

Time, memories and repressed worries loom large. “What can a song do to you?/Can it bring back spring in December?”, “How can I be sure in the uncertainty of the night/That dawn will bring the same world back again?”, “Forget to grieve for one whole night and day”. And most explicitly I Remember, in which the writer’s happy memories of firelight, willow trees and fruit in a Spanish market are undercut by her partner’s more prosaic recollections of smoke, gnats and dust.

Simple accompaniment of piano, woodwind and violin allow the songs plenty of room to breathe and the harmonies are, as ever with The Unthanks, a joy to behold. A melancholy gem fit to set alongside the celebrated work of Molly’s son.

Reflecting on working with Ray Davies, one of his all-time musical heroes, on Americana, Gary Louris of The Jayhawks said: “Ray occupies an interesting space in the rock world... He’s classier than just a rock writer because he’s more literary and you can identify with what he writes about, much more so than Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney.”

Ray Davies

Ray Davies

The special qualities of warm humanity and empathetic storytelling that made the likes of Waterloo Sunset, Sunny Afternoon and Lola such enduring classics are present too in this record, based on Davies’ autobiographical writings on his own relationship with the USA.

Weaned, like many a kid in post-war Britain, on a diet of Western movies, jazz, blues and rock’n’roll, Davies’ own experiences touring with The Kinks in the States challenged his romantic notions about the country – and here he explores his feelings in 15 song vignettes.

From the title track, in which he marvels at “Kentucky moon, Montana sky, Sierra Nevada/It’s an epic ride” to the fakery of the LA music business in The Deal and the quizzical Poetry “I’m looking at a sign that says ‘Have a good day’/But I got too much on my mind/So many questions that get in the way”) there’s a complexity here that not many songwriters can match.

A Place in Your Heart features a duet between Davies and The Jayhawks’ Karen Grotberg that imitates a long distance phone call to a loved one while Rock’n’Roll Cowboys enquires wistfully: “Do you live in a dream or do you live in reality?”

Maia

Maia

Perhaps some answers will be provided in a companion album that’s already said to be in the works.

Once seen plucking ukuleles, banjos and mandolins à la the then fashionable Mumford and Sons, Leeds-based four-piece Maia come of age on their third album Wild Waters.

Described as psychedelic sci-fi folk, it’s a heady concoction of multi-part harmonies, pretty melodies and off-kilter instrumentation that variously has echoes of the Moody Blues’ days of Future Passed, the Beach Boys’ Smiley Smile, the Pretty Things’ SF Sorrow and Fleet Foxes’ eponymous debut album.

Wisely there are contemporary touches too – washes of synth on Heart of the Sun, some raucous electric guitar in Ganges, otherworldly drones that underpin Voodoo Dreams.

“We’re looking on the bright side now,” lead singer Tom Clegg sighs over dramatic whirling piano in Lazy Lazarus.

As musical developments go, this is a big step forward for Maia.

Hannah ‘Pixx’ Rodgers’ follow-up to her 2015 EP Fall In is an extended meditation on the theme of human isolation in an increasingly disparate world.

Musically her songs flit between Stereolab-like motorik grooves (I Bow Down), St Vincent-style wonkiness (Toes, Everything is Weird in America) and sweet Dubstar electro-pop (Grip).

“Don’t follow me into my dreams, you don’t belong here/And if you sneak on in you might be stuck too,” she sings in the catchy Waterslides. An obsession with states of consciousness recurs Your Delight, with its post-punk de-tuned guitars.

The dream-like closing track Mood Ring ends the album on an uplifting note: “Give me a smile, give me a smile.”

An intoxicating debut album.

Pixx plays at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds tonight (June 5).

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