Sharon’s an accomplished and well respected Edinburgh singer-songwriter... permeated with a distinctive Scottish sensibility that’s not easy to define but which marks it out from the welter of Americana-inspired acts on the scene right now. However, from her early days with Shake The Shack through three increasingly acclaimed solo albums since 1999, the sheer depth of Sharon’s talent has still unaccountably remained something of a best-kept secret, a situation which surely must change with this release.
Back in 2010, recruiting two high-calibre simpatico musicians, Amy Geddes (of Tannas) and Vera Van Heeringen (formerly of New Rope String Band), Sharon formed a trio, at first dubbed The Nevernever Cowboys but subsequently renamed The Reckless Angels (after her last CD), creating a signature sound-world of limpid and persuasive beauty.
Nothing=Everything is an intimately performed set of clear-sighted original songs that deal honestly with matters of life, love and longing, with a sincerity born of true experience and the ability to convey this in immediate and powerful imagery. Matching this intimacy, Sharon’s vocal delivery is close and beguiling, its nuances packed with subtle emotion and often characterised by a tender tremulousness that’s very affecting (especially on songs like Fisher King and Avalon). The eerie numbness of her response on the fragile, chiming I Lay Here With You fairly stops you in your tracks, and says so much in under two minutes… but then, that acute sense of voicing the unspoken is very strong throughout all of these songs.
Clustered round her magnificent voice at the central microphone, we find Amy and Vera’s spine-tinglingly fine vocal harmonies. These, in turn, are way more than just supported by the delicious texturings of fiddle or viola with mandolin, in a select instrumental pairing that so eloquently and knowingly creates just the right level of fill to enhance (as well as to both reflect, and, where necessary, lift) the all-important lyrics. For every instance like Avalon and Caroline, whose melancholy or wistful feel is accentuated by the dark colouring of Amy’s viola, there’ll be a corresponding instance (Travelling Ways, It’s A Beautiful Day) where Vera’s chirpy, sparky mandolin brings a fleet-footed upbeat to the proceedings – enough to "melt the ice that’s forming in my heart"!…
Elsewhere there are aural delights aplenty, not least the trio’s affectionate and highly complementary ensemble work, evidenced especially on Darling Pal Of Mine, while the backporch-inflected Leviathan both captivates and consoles with its gorgeous harmonies and simple guitar figures, perhaps recalling the Be Good Tanyas. Andy Thorburn’s guest contributions to the texture are perfectly judged too, his accordion bringing a mildly exotic flavour to Fisher King and his piano providing a solid grounding for Newspaper Headlines. I wouldn’t describe any of the music on this CD as reckless, however – it’s masterly in its control of emotional expression and in its considered and effective creation of quietly dramatic tension through careful dynamic shadings. In short, a real treasure.
This album kicks off with some beautifully bright mandolin which made me figuratively if not literally prick up my ears from the outset. If you like your music at the slightly folkier end of the spectrum then this is certainly worth a listen. In the best traditions of folk music from this side of The Atlantic or the other this is a wonderfully crafted collection of stories with a distinct and slightly quirky narrative voice. Mixed by Tim Mathew, who has worked with the likes of James Yorkston, King Creosote and Eliza Carthy, this gives you an idea of the pedigree. The sound is rich but clean, at times simple but never sparse. This is a sound that wouldn’t seem out of place on the Transatlantic Sessions. There is space to emphasise the skilfully woven together close harmonies which are a highlight of just about every track. Some like I Lay Here With You and Josie have a capella moments which are magical and remarkable. It’s hard to describe but at times there is perhaps a hint of The Be Good Tanyas in both the vocals and the instrumentation, arrangement and the way the vocals complement each other so perfectly although that doesn’t quite hit the mark.
I have really enjoyed listening to this album and did so from the first listen. It’s catchy, competent and warm. Drawing information from her bio, King has been making music for a while and it shows. Previously in the band Shake The Shack with whom she released three albums, her first solo release was in 1999. Accordingly she released two more before she put the Reckless Angels together in 2010. This hardly makes her output prolific and I wonder why. The Reckless Angels are fiddler Amy Geddes of renowned Scottish folk group Tannas and Vera van Heeringen formerly of the New Rope String Band. The trio are definitely a winning combination so more of the same please.
The best quote I’ve found so far is that Sharon was once referred to as “a national treasure” by former Scottish Tourism Minister, Jim Mather which kind of puts her in a bracket of reasons to visit Scotland I suppose. There was a tour of Scotland undertaken by the band to launch this album. Those of us a long way further south may have to wait a while to catch this act live. On the strength of this release I would turn up to take a listen.
**** Live review. St Andrews in the Square. Glasgow.
"...distinctively talented, widely appealing yet thoughtfully eloquent vocalist and lyricist. ....a wealth of lovely vocal harmonies encompassing both the sweetly lambent and the darkly piquant. Kings own singing combines a febrile, urgent upper edge, a sensuously throaty lived in middle register and a resonantly grainy underlay, adroitly shifting to match the content of each song. Her imagination and subject-matter ranged engrossingly wide...lovingly arranged and delivered weaving in delicate strains of bluegrass, swing, jazz and acoustic pop, this was a finely crafted set from a thoroughly seasoned performer..."
SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY
**** 'A measured, well produced collection of independent songwriting.... personal, strong minded and often very moving'
**** 'This gem of an album... is one of those increasingly rare records that presents a musical arc with a cohesive beginning, middle and end and a sense of ambition to tell stories that stick in the imagination.... fragile harmonies delicately wrapped in some excellent fiddle, mandolin and guitar playing... King pulls you into her world and it is a lovely place to be.'
**** 'This excellent country folk album is overflowing with beautiful songs that will seep gently into your soul'
'Twelve original songs make up the album that is awash with sweet harmonies and instrumental nuances that carefully frame Sharon’s creative narrative, the album serves as a reminder of how enjoyable music created in Scotland or indeed anywhere in the UK can successfully interpret American roots music whilst maintaining a distinct identity of it’s own.'
COUNTRY MUSIC PEOPLE
Sharon King has been releasing for well over a dozen years now in different guises. This is the first with the Reckless Angels, who are named after her previous album, which was released as Sharon King And The Neverever Cowboys. The Reckless Angels themselves are made up of Amy Geddes (Tarras) and Vera van Heeringen (New Rope String Band) and as a whole they fly in a loose bluegrass, old timey, Americana formation, well as a starting point.
"Nothing = Everything" takes those three elements and then adds a Scottish touch to them. It's one of the things I like about folk styles they are always evolving. Sharon King is an award winning songwriter and on this showing it's not hard to see why. There is a sound within the songs, not accent, more of a note, in tasting whisky type note, that gives this album a degree of separation from the American versions of the same genres.
The album is infused with subtle harmonies, that are enhanced by the picking nature of mandolin parts bringing out the individual notes which fuse into a delightful whole against the elegant fiddle and guitar parts. The result is a sound that has a deceptively laid back feel, but not so laid back that you are distracted from the words.
Whilst there are a lot of references to myth and lore on the album, each song is more of a vignette into lives and communities in their native Scotland. Personally I think it's the relationship songs, such as "The Lion And The Unicorn" which seems to work on a level, not just for interpersonal feelings, but also as a metaphor around the interaction between states.
In places "Nothing = Everything" is quite a dramatic album, vocal and fiddle giving the album a sense of urgency and a nice variation of pace. Sharon King And the Reckless Angels know their stuff and give the album a sense of vitality as well as a feeling that homespun is beginning to change a genre.'