This review is written by Dai Woosnam,firstname.lastname@example.org, 6/03
Just when I begin to despair at the decision of so many contemporary artistes to continue to write their own songs when they patently have no great aptitude in the songwriting department, along comes this album from a lady with a clear talent to draw this listener into her songs. And what’s more, engage him fully whilst he was there, and spit him out the other end wanting more.
Victoria Parks is based in Columbus, Ohio. This is her second album. Her first was released in 1995, and the long 8 year gestation period before this 2003 release, tells me that it was less a case of “writer’s block” but more“finely honing her skills”. I was sublimely unaware of her 1995 release, but I would be fascinated to see what development there has been in her writing between the two. If her first album was HALF as good as this, then it will still be worth digging out.
Most of the songs here are self-penned, and range from ballads recalling historical events to songs that celebrate ancient Celtic holidays. There is throughout a constant sense of the links between North America and the British Isles: links that are historical, musical and cultural.
The voice is probably more that of a mezzo-soprano, for she is not altogether certain in the upper register. And there is a bit of wobble: an unintentional vibrato. But, guess what? To hell with the rulebook: to my ear she seems a splendid singer. Her effortless lower register really gives me a FRISSON of excitement on occasions, but what REALLY stirs me is the intelligent way you can hear her emphasising key words.
She is surrounded by a dizzying number of talented musicians playing all the usual folk instruments – plus one or two that aren’t, like the electric sitar! – and playing them rather well. It was absolutely no hardship for me to play this album my customary three times before writing this review.
As to the songs, it is fair to say that I was less enamoured of the Celtic holidays/New Age stuff, than I was of her ballads recalling past family/historical events. Her opener is a bobby-dazzler of a number called “Brandy From The Cherry”, relating how her dad born in the Prohibition years, was saved in infancy from death-through-fever by small amounts of illegal cherry brandy. Quite why I found this song so affecting, I am not sure: it is a powerful opener in that it tells an unusual story with words that pay their rent in every line, and has a driving melody and attractive hook to boot. But that in itself doesn’t explain why to me it is the best song on the CD: I think in my case, the fact that for some years I travelled the length and breadth of Britain selling a cherry wine (Kirsberry isn’t a brandy, I know) may have had something to do with it.
Hot on its heels is a fine song called “The Ballad of Uncle Davey”. It is the best song on the dangers of coal-mining I’ve encountered, since first hearing the great Vin Garbutt sing “If I Had A Son” some 11 years ago. I wonder though if there wasn’t something more here, and then the penny dropped. My affection for the song was based in part on my losing my coal-miner dad to “black lung” when I was just ten years old.
And talking of loss: there is a song here called “Beautiful Hands”. It made me think of that Jackson Browne song “For A Dancer”. Raw honest confrontation with the aching void that loss brings. That I could even bracket it with that great searing song, well, it is praise indeed.
Buy this album. You won’t be wasting your money.
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