Kirsty Merryn: Our Bright Night review – thieves, sailors and nuns mix heady balm
As a spring like no other in our lifetime begins, Kirsty Merryn’s second album takes us into darkness. It begins at Twilight, literally, and moves us towards Dawn, taking in beaches, waterfalls, Westminster and ruined convents as we go. We encounter thieves, sailors and monks on the way. It all feels impossibly risque.
The New Forest-born, London-based Merryn has been a dedicated explorer since her 2017 debut LP, She & I, which comprised originals about neglected women in history, their stories constructed like folk narratives, giving them authority. But this is more of a mood piece, piano-led, every touch of a key like a warm breath on the neck, withan oakiness that recalls the early 70s solo albums of Sandy Denny. (It fits that Merryn supported Richard Thompson at the 2019 Sidmouth folk festival.)
Contemporary subjects are never far from Merryn’s eye. The title track looks at women who lost sanctuary during the dissolution of the monasteries, urging: “Courage, sisters.” Mary is structured like a traditional courting song, but takes place in a near-future where seafronts have been tarmacked, and woods felled. Traditionals softly creep into the album’s edgelands, such as Outlandish Knight, in which a woman outsmarts her pursuer. Well-known folk regulars provide support throughout, including singer Sam Kelly, and Show of Hands’ Phil Beer.
Merryn’s voice is also a balm for the soul right now, wide-open and heady. Her production offers spaciousness; at times, it recalls Talk Talk’s more bucolic moments. Elsewhere, it often plays like more mainstream crossover record, softly delivering its bliss. You can imagine Merryn’s dreamy, mellow tones soaring over Radio 2 with no trouble at all.
Also out this month
The intriguingly titled Muggington Lane End is the solo debut by Trembling Bells’ vocalist Lavinia Blackwall. Never a typical folk rock performer, Blackwall updates the late-60s sound of baroque chamber pop. Imagine songs veering off from the Village Green Preservation Society-era Kinks, delivered by a wayward, confident choirgirl. Eliza Carthy and Ben Seal’s Through That Sound (My Secret Was Made Known) sees folk regular Carthy delving into her love of wayward jazz. The Lute Girl’s late-night smokiness suits her particularly well. The Unthanks’ Diversions Vol 5: Live and Unaccompanied is also their most striking record yet, Rachel, Becky and Niopha Keegan’s voices bare, bruising and stark together on stage.