Lady Maisery – Cycle (2016)

Posted by on October 29, 2016as

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In the 3 years since Lady Maisery’s acclaimed second album Mayday was released, Hannah James debuted her pioneering solo dance project Jigdoll and collaborated with Estonian accordion virtuoso Tuulikki Bartosik, Hazel Askew made In The Air or the Earth as half of The Askew Sisters, and Rowan Rheingans has won the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Original Track (Mackerel, from The Rheingans Sisters’ Already Home.

As a band, Lady Maisery have travelled to the USA as an Official Showcase artist at Folk Alliance International, toured in France and played the main stage at Cambridge Folk Festival 2016. They are also part of Songs of Separation, whose remarkable debut attracted much praise. In the midst of all this, they made their third album.

What emerges from this period of sustained, diverse creativity is Cycle, a unified, passionate cry; at times a coruscating critique of post-Cameron Britain; at others a call for harmony with the land and a meditation on death; an eclectic summary of everything they do, everything they’ve done in that time, a staggering demonstration of the full extent of their powers and of their considerable creative ambition.

Featuring original songs by Rheingans and Askew, Cycle also sees the band tackle songs by Richard Farina and, remarkably, Todd Rundgren. It is in his ‘Honest Work’ that Cycle finds its centre; political, compassionate. The Financial Times said of Mayday, “Readers of this newspaper may listen uncomfortably to a close-harmony version of Leon Rosselson’s “Palaces Of Gold”, setting out the wilful blindness enabled by the rich insulating themselves from the social services used by the poor.” The same will surely be said of ‘Honest Work’, a lament for the everyman in the post-industrial era.

Their harmonies are as precise as ever, burnished with a newfound richness. Their diddling (tune-singing) remains their signature move, at once a glorious party-piece and a slice of lost cultural heritage reborn. ‘Sheila’s 70’, a James original dedicated to her auntie on her birthday [track 5], is already proving the highlight of their live sets this summer.

Produced by Dylan Fowler (also at the helm for The Rheingans Sisters’ Already Home) in Wales and mastered by Minerva Pappi in Helsinki, Cycle is accompanied by a remarkable set of Art Nouveau-inspired illustrations by Kathleen Neeley and Thomas Shahan. The keen-eyed fan will discover a whole host of clever references, among them hazel and rowan leaves as well as echoes of the William Morris pattern that appeared on their debut Weave & Spin.

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