Edgelarks : Feather

The title, and opening, track of this, Edgelarks' fifth release, was inspired by finding a lone feather in the middle of a stone circle. The song is defined by vivid, resonant banjo and exalted vocals; its first notes signal unequivocally that this is a remarkable album.

Edgelarks are Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. They won 'best duo' at the 2014 BBC Folk Awards, and had further nominations in 2016 and 2018. With Feather they stake a firm claim for further accolades. It is an exquisite, enthralling work, made up of sublime songs that take your soul up in their flight. Henry brought his dobro, lap steel and beatbox harmonica to the recording sessions, Martin her banjo, fiddle and magical voice; the resulting sounds are spellbinding.

The new music was inspired during a retreat to a cottage in the West Cumbrian Lakes; as Hannah Martin herself has noted, they came back from the trip with, "songs of the hills, wild rain and sunshine and the circles of all things, songs for tired hearts and troubled minds." There is one traditional piece added to the ten self-penned compositions their journey led to, Spencer the Rover, which is given a mesmeric vocal reading by Martin, haunted by the shimmering drone of a shruti box.

Their own songs are rich in natural imagery. The mood and instrumentation varies, but there is a thread of otherness running through Feather; the whole has the mystery, promise and fascination of walking alone in a mediaeval walled town at first light.

At the core of the album Wanting Nothing and What We Saved From the Tide are both its highlights and distilled essence. The former's lyric of blessed contentment is delicately framed by dobro and banjo; the latter is a beautiful sketch of the rhythms of beach-combing, with guitar underpinning the ebb and flow of shared vocal lines.

As The Longest Day, described as 'a sun-dream' in the CD's notes, gently fades to close Feather, you are left with the enduring, uplifting sense that you have listened to music with real human grace at its heart. Edgelarks sought a sanctuary to write in peace, and in turn the music they composed whilst there offers a place of solace and stillness; if you buy just one album to cherish this year, make it this one.