Top of the World Review: Karine Polwart – Traces

Posted on September 12th, 2012 in Recent posts, Reviews by .

Words by Billy Rough

Political and personal become one and the same

Traces is Polwart’s fifth studio album and her talent for responsive and emotive lyrics combined with sweet melodies is just as strong here as on her previous outings. Traces makes allusion to a wide range of sources including Charles Darwin, the works of Robert Burns and even the reputation of Bonnybridge as a magnet for extra-terrestrial visitors, but it is Polwart’s reference to current events – both political and personal – that shows her at her most effective.

A perceptive social consciousness continuously feeds the pulse of Polwart’s work. It’s most evident here in ‘Cover Your Eyes’, inspired by the controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s golf development on the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire, and ‘King of Birds’ which confirms Polwart’s solidarity for the Occupy Movement’s 2011 protest at St Paul’s. More personal, yet universal, emotions are explored in the tender rawness of ‘Strange News’ and ‘Half a Mile’; both deal with heartbreaking loss through a sensitive yet powerful voice. ‘Don’t Worry’ sees Polwart in a consoling mood; full of soothing words and sweet accompaniment, whilst the homespun paean of ‘Sticks ‘n’ Stones’, sees Polwart aided by Inge Thomson on wistful accordion and backing vocals. 

Joining Polwart on Traces are her brother Steven on guitars and vocals and Thomson on accordion, percussion and vocals. The trio manage to weave a sound that is both orchestral yet intimate; full of rich swirling tunes and fragile instrumentals which perfectly complement Polwart’s intelligently sincere lyrics. An occasionally elegiac yet resiliently beautiful and bittersweet album.

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