Words by Katherine Priddy
As a female folk musician myself, it’s always exciting to hear how other young women in the trade are leaving their mark. It’s also the first time I have come across Wildwood Kin’s music, but upon checking out their website prior to listening to the album I was impressed to see they had reached the final four of the BBC Young Folk Musician awards, as well as left awash with good words from respected names in the industry. These two sisters and their cousin appear to be grabbing the folk world by its Aran jumper and giving it a good shake.
My fault, then, for researching Wildwood Kin before giving their debut album a listen. But I was slightly surprised, and dare I say disappointed, to find that Turning Tides isn’t the hollering crème de la crème of female folk I was anticipating.
With their gorgeous Joni Mitchell-esque appearances and a name like Wildwood Kin – a nod to their folk inspirations as well as their familial connection, I imagined Turning Tides would be more acoustic, organic and experimental. However going into the studio proffers an opportunity to develop your sound and explore the possibilities of the music you create; Wildwood Kin made the decision to move away from their folk roots, nurtured in small venues around Devon and Exeter, and pushed forwards into realms of synths, electric guitar and atmospheric production.
It would be wrong of me to pooh-pooh a piece of work that clearly had a great deal of time and love poured into it, purely on the basis that it isn’t the folk music I was expecting. Indeed, their use of harmonies is commendable; all three voices blend together perfectly and create some beautiful melodies that do still bear the traces of a traditional origin and draw an obvious comparison with The Staves, though more pop. These vocals are demonstrated best in ‘The Valley’, the album’s penultimate track, where there is a lot less of the studio production, reverb and atmospheric frills that dominate the rest of the LP.
That’s not to say that the other album tracks on Turning Tides aren’t worth a listen. ‘Warrior Daughter’ has a driving rhythm and the organic sound of the clapping adds to the track’s dynamism. The lyrics too are positive and uplifting, a theme that runs throughout the album, harking back to the ladies’ gospel and worship music inspiration. ‘Steady My Heart’ also has a little more guts than some of the more saccharine songs, whilst the title track makes great use of a double bass to cut through the atmospheric, dreamy effects to offer a possibility of something more raw and powerful.
Turning Tides is an apt name for an album that shows a brave retraction from the old and an embrace of the new. It requires guts to change your sound, and I take my hat off to Wildwood Kin for taking that plunge. Despite not being the folk music that their past led me to expect, Wildwood Kin have created an debut album of sweet melodies and soft pop anthems that, whilst not breaking any great boundaries and doing anything wildly radical, are easily listenable and well-constructed.
I still feel the passion that was present during the song-writing process has been somewhat stultified by the addition of synths and heavy reverb, causing some of the tracks to blur into one another and keeping the raw climax that they seem to be building towards frustratingly out of reach. I would be interested to hear Wildwood Kin completely stripped back to acoustic guitars, drums and their haunting voices, which really are their best selling points and need no great embellishment.
‘Taking a Hold’ – Wildwood Kin
‘The Valley’ – Wildwood Kin (from The Clockwork Owl Sessions)