Friday, February 15, 2008

Natural Wonder

Mariee Sioux - Faces in the Rocks (Grass Roots, 2007)

Now here’s a classic example of how the blogosphere can be a force for good (eat that Grauniad!). Search for Mariee Sioux on Google and all the top ranking articles are from blogs. If anybody can find me a UK press review of this rather fine album, I’d be grateful for the pointer. It’s baffling in light of the predilection of this country’s music writers towards mystical hippy nonsense in the Devendra Banhart mould that Sioux has not been more widely recognised. Her delightful merging of Joni Mitchell-tinged acoustic reveries with Native American folk traditions makes for an appealing and engaging listen.

The persistent recourses to the marvels of nature, along with plenty of references to wizards and magic suggested I had good reason to be a little sceptical about this album. Yet strong recommendations from a number of bloggers I respect persuaded me to download it, and that proved to be a good decision. I rather wish I’d heard it in time to include it in my albums of 2007 list. If 2008 appears to have got off to a somewhat sluggish start, there are still plenty of riches hanging over from last year to digest (I also still need to blog about Food’s ‘Molecular Gastronomy’ at some point).

Yet Mariee Sioux’s voice, soft, delicate and full of mystery, compensates for some of the lyrical flights of fancy. There’s also a sensitivity and intuitiveness here in addition to the wide eyed wonderment. The layering of her vocals is peculiarly effective, giving a sense of eeriness as well as a natural beauty. It’s almost as if she is whispering responses to her own melodies. There’s also an assured marriage of fluency and understatement in her delivery. Similarly, the combination of intricate acoustic guitar lines and Gentle Thunder’s Native American Flute make for a less familiar slant on the bucolic folk template.

The songs are often lengthy and frequently mesmerising – beguiling in their power to haunt and captivate. There always seems justification for the length of the songs in that they travel on a clear journey and are much more than merely linear narratives. There’s something slightly ominous beneath the surface prettiness, yet the abiding mood is one of hope and joy. It’s a carefully constructed mood that captures the complexities and ambiguities of life itself.

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