Following a first self-release in 2014 and two magnificent solo studio albums to date for Tompkins Square, namely her self-titled début in 2016 and The Two Worlds (2018), Galway and now London-based Irish visual artist and singer songwriter Brigid Mae Power has been ploughing her own furrow as an individual voice on the independent folk scene. Captured in Glasgow’s Green Door Recording Studio, a not for profit community access space fitted with analogue recording equipment and co-produced by songwriter and composer Peter Broderick, Head Above The Water was released on 5 June 2020 last on London-based Fire Records.
Brigid Mae Power’s very first album I Told You The Truth was entirely recorded “on quiet mornings” in Galway’s St Nicholas Church. The 2014 self-production established from the outset the singer’s trademark sound – a strong affinity for resonant and sacred spaces, lo-fi aesthetics, slow introspective ballads and an ethereal voice. Over her last two studio albums, Brigid Mae Power has toyed magnificently with the aesthetics of reverberation and vocal performance and Head Above The Water pursues a similar course. But for the first time, the singer went into the studio with a band, thus immediately amplifying her sound.
With Glasgow-based folk singer songwriter and founding member of The Furrow Collective Alasdair Roberts at the helm – he co-produced the album and contributed to backing vocals, guitar, fiddle and piano – Head Above The Water features Hamilton Belk on pedal steel guitar, Stevie Jones on upright bass, Liam Chapman on percussion, Peter Broderick on drums, violin, organ, backing vocals and Brian Mac Gloinn (Ye Vagabonds) on fiddle, bouzouki and backing vocals. Every element of this superb production is there to support Brigid Mae Power’s celestial voice.
One will immediately associate the pedal steel guitar for instance with the country music style. But with its note bending and vibrato qualities, this is also an instrument which is ideally suited to accompany the singer’s mesmerising modulations.
In her previous recordings, the singer also often accompanied herself with harmonium or accordion, two instruments with a strong vibrato. On Head Above The Water, the musician plays the mellotron for the first time, another oscillating and pitch-controlled instrument often associated with 1970s prog-rock. But the continuous drone of the instrument provides here the ideal backdrop for the singer’s impressive voice range.
Wordless vocal lines immediately introduce five out of the ten songs on the album and vocal solos feature on every song bar one either as a substitute for or alongside the traditional instrumental bridge on violin, bouzouki or flute (Selah Broderick).
Apart from a wonderful reprise of the traditional English folk song “The Blacksmith”, all songs recount “a continuing tale of everyday survival” in the form of concise memories, autobiographical snippets and trivial conversations. The singer seems to have left behind many of the struggles that coloured The Two Worlds for instance. “I was in a battle / I could neither win or lose / But time has passed / And I can freely move.” writes the singer in “I Was Named After You”. This newly found serenity translates musically into a much slower tempo and a very warm sound throughout.
With vocal introductions within a responsorial structure, a soft pace, the hum of the mellotron or the guitar, a striking resonance, rapturous high-pitched melismatic lines and modal melodies, songs like “Not Yours to Own” or “I Had to Keep my Circle Small” highlight the singer’s quiet spellbinding style on Head Above The Water – An enchanted collection of modern and secular “canticles of ecstasy”.