For her seventh solo album, Laws Of Motion, Karine Polwart has produced another captivating and absorbing combination of music, storytelling and insightful commentary on a wide range of universal themes and issues. Assisted by regular collaborators, Inge Thomson on accordion, percussion and vocals and brother Steven Polwart on guitar, piano, percussion and backing vocals, Karine Polwart has delivered a collection of songs of rare excellence, with a series of imaginative, ambient soundscapes providing the backdrop to her poetic, evocative and uncompromising lyrics.
Set against chiming guitar and a backwash of gentle synths, the opening song, Ophelia, creates a soothing vibe, as Karine Polwart ‘s elegant vocals caress the ears of the listener, punctuated by some lilting Parisian accordion (“…there’s a wind in from the desert, red dust blows across the sun, it bleeds into the evening…”). The single word, Ophelia, repeats in the ephemeral choruses, as if carried gently on the wind. The tense and dramatic Laws Of Motion, co-written with Martin Green of Lau (and included originally in his acclaimed 2016 multi-media stage show, “Flit”), is an eloquent and heartfelt commentary on the global refugee crisis, featuring burbling synths, desert blues guitar and washes of accordion (“…searchlights at the tunnel gate, barbed wire at the harbour, restless men and women blow like sand across the border…”).
Part sung and part spoken, I Burn But I Am Not Consumed is an awe-inspiring song, in which Polwart delivers a wry and stinging rebuke to Donald Trump, the song title referencing the motto of the Clan MacLeod (Trump’s mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, left Lewis in 1930 and boarded a steamer from Glasgow to New York). With its chilling echoes of the persecution of minorities in Nazi Germany, Suitcase touches movingly on the refugee issue, its pathos heightened by Polwart’s heart-wrenching vocals, Thomson’s eerie accordion and some light-touch percussion (“…the suitcase in the lobby is always packed and ready…the only thing you need to know is when it’s time to go…”).
In Matsuo’s Welcome To Muckhart, Karine Polwart weaves a heart-warming tale of a young Japanese mother who leaves Yokohama for Clackmannanshire in an attempt to escape the heartbreak of losing her daughter in an earthquake, and finds solace in the work she finds there as a gardener (“…to tend this earth is all that we can do with this life…”). Drawing on superstition and with a quietly menacing air, Crow On The Cradle concerns an expectant mother’s dialogue with a crow regarding the prospects for her unborn child and ends with soaring and dramatic vocal harmonies. In The Robin, Polwart celebrates this humble wee bird as a symbol of the resilience of humanity, with the pastoral nature of the song accentuated by gently-picked acoustic guitar and exquisite vocal effects in the rich harmonies.
The album finishes in dramatic fashion with the graceful, piano-led Cassiopeia, in which Karine Polwart recalls the dread she felt as a nine-year old at the prospect of a nuclear attack (“…how far is it from Leningrad to Bonnybridge?”). The child stares at the dark sky during a power cut…”When the grid went down again, again, tonight, the only light was stars through the velux window, Cassiopeia, I can see you shine…” As the tension in the song mounts, Polwart’s urgent spoken words are underpinned by weaving synths and a recorded Home Office public announcement on what to do in the event of radioactive fallout.
With Laws Of Motion, Karine Polwart has produced a majestic album, which induces a wide range of emotions in the listener. These fiercely intelligent and thought-provoking songs may be sobering and cautionary in places but they are all ultimately life-affirming and inspirational. While still rooted in the folk tradition, Karine Polwart’s music continues to branch out into exciting rhythmic and ambient directions and she is now one of this country’s essential singer-songwriters.
Laws Of Motion will be released on 19th October 2018 via Hudson Records.