Album Review: Wildwood Kin: Turning Tides

‘Like a wounded warrior, ‘Hold On’ picks you up and gently carries you away from the chaos’

If you read my review of Wildwood Kin back in February you will know just how much a fan I was and how they had very much changed my view on folk music. However, while the sound that got me interested is maintained in places, their debut album ‘Turning Tides,’ has a very different atmosphere about it. Read on to see exactly what I mean.

Opening with a freely picked electric guitar pattern, Track 1 ‘The Author,’ (2016) signifies that this debut album will be more full-on than the music previously experienced. Throughout the track, there are some surprisingly beautiful moments which are the result of electronic sounds. Take the overlapping guitar parts in the first section and the processed drums as just two examples. As an opening track, it certainly takes us away from the more acoustic sound of ‘Steady My Heart’ heard in February, but with moments where these elements come to the fore, it reassures you that Wildwood Kin won’t be moving away from their roots entirely.

Continuing with the sounds heard in the opener, Track 2 ‘Run’ and Track 3 ‘Dove,’ give us a showcase of what is to come. The first of these is most definitely a bit of a shock, especially taking into account where ‘The Author’ finished, however this is only the beginning and afterwards the track provides the perfect demonstration of the band’s musical scope. Filled with changes of drama – created through the combination of full-on sections and more reflective ones – musical breakdowns and call and response vocals, it is a track which makes you realise maybe this full-on-folk-influenced sound is rather enjoyable. In stark contrast, ‘Dove,’ utilises beautifully laid-back dance influenced sounds with equally beautiful sounding vocal harmonies. However, as wonderful as the atmosphere created is, it some how doesn’t seem folk based enough, causing you to lose focus.

Having been introduced to Wildwood Kin via their acoustic performance of Track 4 ‘Steady My Heart,’ I expected a similar (if not identical) listening experience. However, while adding in the other musical influences gives it more power, ironically, it seems to have less impact. Thankfully, Track 5 ‘Circumstance,’ gives us what is the strongest track of the album to this point and while this is partly down to its more traditional feel, the use of technology within it engages you straightaway.

Rather than being a shocking introduction (like ones we have experienced earlier) this otherworldly one instead fills you with a sense of security and warmth. This doesn’t mean however that the track stays this way – far from it – and with the increasingly powerful traditional-sounding drumming pattern, wordless vocals and initially subtle use of piano, it reaches a climax that is a world away from its opening. For that reason alone, it is definitely worth a listen. After what has been a mixture of old and new tracks, both of the following tracks revisit other points in Wildwood Kin’s career.

Starting with powerful, close harmony vocals, Track 6 ‘Warrior Daughter’ (2016) immediately captures a mood unlike anything else on the album. It’s full of intensity, strength and drama and with its continually foreboding rhythmic drum patterns and soaring vocals, you are taken to a musical battlefield. You can’t help but surrender to Wildwood Kin’s sound here. Like a wounded warrior, Track 7 ‘Hold On’ (2015), picks you up and gently carries you away from the chaos and to a calm place to recover. It’s unsettling opening serves as the perfect continuation from the previous track and as the band’s trademark vocals enter, a lighter sounding acoustic guitar chord pattern beautifully blends the vocal and background sounds together.

Moving us into the latter part of the album, Track 8 ‘Taking a Hold,’ and Track 9 ‘On and On,’ showcases both the traditional and newer influences of Wildwood Kin’s music. Opening with compound rhythms, in both the vocal and accompanying elements, ‘Taking a Hold,’ hints at more of a full-on dance feel, but one of Celtic influence. Cleverly though, rather than it having a continuous bodhran- type rhythm, the half-time drum pattern works perfectly allowing the syncopated and slide-accented vocals to soar. In a similar way, ‘On and On,’ has an equally folk-based atmosphere and with the lyrics having an unpredictable separation about them, there is a sense of relaxation and freeness. This said, there is also some of the drama we heard earlier as well as similar uses electric guitar to those in the previous track. Regrettably, while it has all the hallmarks of the most enjoyable tracks on the album, it feels surprising detached in places leaving you slightly confused as to its purpose. Concerned that this may signal the album having a less than positive ending, the final two tracks recreate the energy felt in earlier parts.

Setting out in a similar way to others, Track 10 ‘The Valley’ (2015), gives us the best elements of Wildwood Kin’s music and through its combination of warming vocals and an understated accompaniment based on slow harmonic movement, we are transported to a deliciously calming environment. For me it is the ideal reminder of the sound that attracted me to their music in the first place. However, while the final track ‘Turning Tides’ doesn’t stay as close to this sound, it demonstrates – in the main – how successfully it can be used within their new music.

Beginning with a highly rhythmical picked guitar line, it hints at the purposeful sound we will reach later in the track. Brilliantly combining the solo voice with selective vocal harmonies to provide emphasis, the track gathers pace and by the halfway point, the relentless drumming and high bass guitar line helps it to take off. Surprisingly, while it may sound like the track is coming to an end at this point, it isn’t, and through the use of wordless harmonic passages, we are taken through a more mysterious sound before gradually returning to original one. Unfortunately however, this is again not the ending and while it would have left us with Wildwood Kin’s beautiful vocals, the actual ending is one of an experimental sounding nature. In short, while there are some truly wonderful moments in the album, the final one, is most definitely not one of them.

You can find out more about Wildwood Kin here and Turning Tides is available from multiple online platforms now.

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