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Being just sixteen and releasing an album of traditional and original music is achievement enough. Having the backing of folk veterans Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain makes that achievement all the more special.
Harriet Bartlett, from Shrewsbury in Shropshire, is an intriguing character, in that she has already done what so many people her age dream about, the difference being that, whereas thousands hanker for pop stardom, Harriet has opted for a genre of music which has never been "cool". Undeterred, she has gone her own way.
Despite going straight into "customer order" status at certain establishments, she has the potential, should she choose to stick at it, to take her career all the way. "Eyes Wide Open" is proof of an incredible talent. It would be such a shame if it were to be hidden behind all the "cool" stuff that gets pushed and pushed, so here I am, doing my bit to make sure you people get to know all about her.
The album starts off in a mellow mood, with ‘Philly Boy (for Phil Cunningham)/Charlie’s Jig/Crabbit Shona,’ the first two of which were composed by Harriet. The sound of her piano accordion dominates the slow ¾, leading into more upbeat percussion from Mark Maguire’s bodhran, and upbeat, dancey tunes. Charlie, you may like to know, is Harriet’s Quaker Parrot.
A standout track is ‘Crazy Man Michael,’ previously sung by Sandy Denny, and is a pedestal for Harriet’s youthful, sweet voice. It’s the story of a man who strikes up a conversation with a raven, who tells him "Your true love will die by your own right hand/And Crazy Man Michael will cursèd be." Michael then kills the raven prophet, who disappears, to be replaced by his own dead love. The raven, whoever s/he was, turned out to be sadly accurate.
Another dancey tune with trills and happy notes is ‘Dick Gossip’s/Jean’s Reel,’ which Harriet says are "always fun to play!"
A particularly personal song for me is ‘Culloden’s Harvest,’ with beautiful vocals, minor notes and heartbreaking rises in pitch. "The flower of our country lay scorched by an army/The invaders’ men stood while the clansmen did fall/Pain and fear and death grow." One of those laments about that landmark of Scottish history, that touches the heart and soul.
‘Leaving Stoer’ is another slow lament, a farewell tune, which leads neatly into ‘Reel Beatrice,’ reminiscent of 20’s and 30’s Paris - have a listen, and see if you don’t agree! The set is finished off by ‘Stomach Steinway Man,’ a foot-tapping tune with lots more trills, showing Harriet’s true skill on the accordion.
My personal favourite is ‘Some People Cry,’ and is a song about homelessness. This could have been written especially for her, as it suits her voice perfectly. "Some people are hiding from the cold/But then again, what do I know?" The final line is almost a question: "And I never really want to know/Where some people without a home/Go."
‘Ashokan Farewell’ starts off with a melancholic acoustic guitar from Ed Boyd, which then gives way to Harriet’s accordion. A slow, simple ¾ tune, and one which could trigger either happy memories or sad, depending on the individual and their experiences.
Finally, we have Harriet’s voice showcased, a song written by Owen Hand, ‘My Donald.’ "Oh my Donald, he sails upon the sea/He splices the ropes and he sets the sail/While southwards he roams to the home of the whale." The only criticism I have to make about this one is that on the very last word, she loses the note, which the studio could have helped her out with by cutting it. However, this is in no way detrimental to the whole. Harriet’s voice just needs a little development, and she’ll be perfect. The song itself is beautifully rendered by her youthful vocal.
I’ve not included all the tracks on this album, but I have hopefully given you a taster of what I think is a remarkable debut, especially from someone so young. There is so much music out there that she could have chosen, and she settled on folk. I sigh in contentment to know that there are some people out there who refuse to go with what’s fashionable.
Go on. Get this album. You may have to order it, but it’ll be well worth the wait.
© TaffetaPunk, June 2004