Born in California and now sharing her time between her native homeland and County Clare in Ireland, Amelia Baker is a singer songwriter who started her career as a member of Santa Cruz-based folk-punk band Blackbird Raum. She launched her solo career in 2015 as the Cinder Well experimental folk project. A first self-titled EP, followed by The Unconscious Echo in 2018 and No Summer in 2020 firmly established the singer as a singular and introspective voice on the transatlantic folk scene. Charting “the feeling of being suspended between two worlds” – the hazy California Coast of her childhood and the “Summer-less” West Coast of Ireland – and released on 21 April 2023 last on Free Dirt Records, Cadence is a haunting downtempo collection of new compositions.

Cinder Well - Cadence (2023)
Cinder Well – Cadence (2023)

Lending its name to the album, the word Cadence has a multitude of meanings, all referring to rhythm, count, measure or beat. From the old Italian Cadenza via the Latin verb Cadere meaning “to fall”, Cadence points to the rhythmic flow of a sequence of sounds or words, to its intonation or modulation, like in the pitch of the voice as it falls at the end of a sentence – as exemplified by the descending chord progression on the title track. All the songs on Cadence express this feeling of slowly hovering between two worlds, of having homes in two places separated by the ocean and constantly ebbing and flowing between both, either physically or mentally.

“These songs have a feeling of being lost in the woods, but writing from that place, they were written in a process of getting unstuck.”

Following a deliberate downtempo pace accompanied by a down-tuned and open electric or resonator steel guitar to suit her voice, Amelia Baker’s singing is both rooted in the modern Californian folk scene and in the “high lonesome sound” of the Appalachian rural folk tradition. As suggested by three covers on her 2020 album No Summer, the singer likes to dig deep into a repertoire of slow ballads, laments and tunes from the Anglo-Irish repertoire such as Kentucky singer and banjo player Roscoe Holcomb’s “Wandering Boy”, Kentucky singer Jean Ritchie’s version of the traditional English song “The Cuckoo” or West Virginia old time fiddler Edden Hammons’ “Queen of the Earth, Child of the Skies”.

Accompanied by sparse drums (Phillip Rogers), bass (Neal Heppleston), organ, (Nich Wilbur), viola (Jake Falby) and fiddle (Lankum’s Cormac MacDiarmada), Amelia Baker chronicles an in-between magical-realist world of ancient forests, moonlit caves, waterfalls, silent streets and windswept empty fields. Her melodic, slow burning and droning ballads are populated by mythological selkies (“Two Heads Grey Mare”), goats and talking birds. Amelia Baker is also a fiddler and following her move to Ireland, she spent time completing a Master’s Degree in Irish Traditional Music Performance from the University of Limerick. A song like “A Scorched Lament” for instance is beautifully set to the beat of a slow jig, and subtle string arrangements embellish every song on the album.

Even though the album emerged from a post-pandemic sense of uncertainty and isolation, Cadence is a striking collection of new songs amplified by an arresting voice quietly soaring through multiple layers of lulling bass, strings and down-tuned guitars sometimes on the brink of saturation.