Old Sticks to Scare a Bird – Maverick Magazine
Although she still looks like a fresh faced teenager Angie Palmer has been in and around the British Folk scene for quite a few years now, starting out as a busker and eventually playing every Folk Club between Lands End and John O’Groats, before basing herself in France when fame and fortune avoided her in her home country.
Now; with her fifth album; Folk music has finally caught up with Angie Palmer as Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran, Noah and the Whale combine the best in Americana with traditional British Folk music to create what is thought of a ‘modern commercial sound,’ but is exactly what Angie Palmer has been doing for the last 10 years.
OLD STICKS TO SCARE A BIRD starts with the potently political Ballad of Jack Everyman when Angie barely contains her anger as she tells us your taxes line his pockets/and your labour fills his store/and he still keeps you poor. It’s as good as anything Billy Bragg wrote in his heyday; only with a melody.
Raising Hurricanes is a break up song that combines English Folk and Blues but sounds like it was written in Louisiana (now do you see why she’s difficult to categorise?).
Angie Palmer can even do cute – Postcard from Paris which is a love song to that great city and it works on every level; especially the blend of guitars, violins, violas and mandolin that give it an ethereal feel.
Trad. Folk rears its head on the beautiful Song of Drowning Sailors; which could have been written any time in the last 100 years; but was written by Angie and Paul Mason for this album, and goes to show what great songwriters they actually are.
As usual, I have a favourite track and here it’s Dirty Little Secret which is fun rocking Americana soaked song, where the title tells you all you need to know.
Haunted by a Stranger is one epic story split into two songs as the narrator gives us both sides of a fleeting moment in time and the result is astonishing.
Speaking of epic; the finale is the eight minute long Fresco when Angie and her band slide their collective hand inside your chest and gently squeeze your heartstrings with an arrangement made in Heaven by Angels.
Blabber ‘N’ Smoke
Lancashire’s Angie Palmer is one of the best kept UK singer/songwriter secrets. Despite the likes of Bob Harris championing her and a slew of fine releases she steadfastly remains just slightly under the radar. A pity really as she’s one of our most literate songwriters and capable of delivering songs that wouldn’t be out of place in Joni Mitchell’s oeuvre.
For her latest album, Old sticks To Scare a Bird Palmer continues to offer some sublime Mitchell type sojourns with Postcard From Paris a lilting slice of reportage detailing a Paris morning while William Of The Desert is a desiccated dream poem that recalls Sandy Denny with some wonderful playing from her band. The album is sequenced as if it was a two sided vinyl affair with side two dedicated to Palmer’s delicate musings while the first half allows her to let her hair down and rock out a little. In reality this just means that the majority of the songs on side one are a little fuller, more fleshed out with instrumentation and strings. She does rock out on Dirty Little Secret which is a funky little blues rocker with guitarist Billy Buckley letting rip. Truth be told and despite it being a fine performance in its own right its almost akin to finding your parents making out on the sofa. You might admire their panache but it does upset the equilibrium. Little By Little is another up-tempo number but it flows much more smoothly with sparkling mandolin from Richard Curren and a driving rhythm that harks back to Mitchell’s Hejira. Time Of Thunder closes the first half and it’s a more successful amalgamation of the fire and earth that make up the album as Curran’s violin and Buckley’s guitar gimble and gyre like the venerable Fairport Convention back when Richard Thompson was a member. The rhythm section drive the song along as Palmer wallows again in the Denny stream. The most successful song on side one is Raising Hurricanes where Palmer tells a witchy tale of revenge that marries the traditional narrative of English folk song with a slinky Dobro driven southern states feel.
Side two starts off with the straightforward Song Of Drowning Sailors, a traditional sounding folk tale. Aside from the aforementioned Postcard From Paris and William Of the Desert Palmer offers two sides of the story of a failed love in the two part Haunted By A Stranger, his tale is wintry while hers is brighter and optimistic. She closes with the wonderful Fresco which is breathtaking in its delivery with a tender guitar solo, almost like a singing saw, casting light on a perfectly sung oblique love song. The ghost of Sandy Denny and the spirit of Joni Mitchell hover around this but ultimately Palmer owns this sublime song as she sings gloriously throughout it. Tender, affecting and passionate this is an almost perfect song which deserves to be heard by one and all.
Reviewing each of Angie’s previous albums in turn, I’ve not been able to avoid tagging this exceptional Lancashire-raised (now France-based) artist as a best-kept secret; and, despite persistent championing by Bob Harris and in the pages of many well-respected music publications, that status inexplicably remains even now, several years down the line. And yet Angie, in collaboration with her lyricist Paul Mason, has delivered some of the most lasting of singer-songwriter albums of the past decade, and her career now gains another memorable instalment with the release of her new CD.
Old Sticks… has been deliberately conceived as a “two-sider” in the tradition of the vinyl LP, with Side One a series of songs with more electric, comparatively rocked-up arrangements and Side Two containing the more delicate (and delicately-scored) numbers. Although there’s not really a weak track as such, the “second side” arguably brings the stronger material.
Richard Curran’s spirited, sinuous violin work provides a link from the latter song into Side Two (after you hear the actual side-turnover being made!). Here, string textures feature more prominently, culminating in the glorious fulsomely-orchestrated sound of the eight-minute finale Fresco. Haunted By A Stranger is a masterly linked two-part opus that presents a pair of failed lovers’ contrasted perspectives on their experience, while the aforementioned Fresco conjures a fragile, dreamily beautiful, exotic soundscape that can’t fail to melt your eardrums time and again.
The adopted “two-sides-of-vinyl format” idea may not be the best method of introducing her music to a new listener, but on the other hand taken as a whole it still manages to embrace all the trademarks of Angie’s stylish, effortlessly genre-crossing “English Americana”, and there’s plenty of her fine songwriting showcased within. Angie herself is on splendid form, and her band (the abovementioned Messrs. Curran and Buckley with bassist Ollie Collins and drummer Tim Franks) do a fantastic job and are brilliantly cleanly engineered by Alan Gregson.
Dave Kidman Jan 2013
Acclaimed UK singer-songwriter is usually labelled ‘English Americana’ but her music is much wider. The twelve songs on ‘Old Sticks…’ are the result of three years of writing and is an album of two musical ‘sides’ – side one being the loud one and side two an acoustic one. She blends raw power on the opener ‘The Ballad of Jacke Everyman’ and close with the haunting ‘Fresco’ with gorgeous subdued strings, crying slide and a stunning vocal. A real ElectricGhost favourite. Brilliant and highly recommended.