The Last Star is Heidi Talbot’s second album, and although it is a ‘solo’ performance, there are contributions from a good number of other fellow travellers on the great 21st century folk music wagon. The result will appeal to a wide audience, including fans of traditional and contemporary folk music. The trick is to tell which is which, without referring to the sleeve notes!
The first track, ‘Willie Taylor’ features Phil Cunningham on Accordion, and contains most of the essential elements of traditional folk song – including an unfaithful boy called Willie. Willie is press ganged on his wedding day, pursued by his betrothed, and finally banged to rights for his infidelity, summary justice being served by said fiancée with a pistol. All good stuff, and it gets the CD off to a solid start.
The next track ‘Tell Me Truly’ is a tale of courtship set in strict waltz time – it could be another “Trad arr. Talbot” but was in fact penned by Heidi herself, and set to music by her “real life” sweetheart (and now hubby) John McCusker, who in addition to providing his talents on fiddle, cittern and whistle, also produced the album – definitely a case of keep it in the family. Kris Drever, Eddi Reader and Karine Polwart add sweet harmonies on this track, providing a gentle chorus to back Heidi’s plaintive vocals. And then there’s good buddy Boo Hewerdine on Guitar to complete the line up.
‘Hang Me’ is a traditional tale set to a new tune by Kris Drever, who also adds a harmony line which beautifully blends with Heidi’s rich tones, backed by a very sparse guitar accompaniment – also courtesy of Kris. ‘The Shepherd Lad’ continues in this traditional vein, this time the traditional lyrics are brought to life by John McCusker’s music, with harmonies from Kris and Karine. McCusker’s large and mellow tin whistle makes its first appearance on this track. The haunting sound which John wrings from this instrument beautifully complement Heidi’s singing, the two sounds joining together as one. The Shepherd Lad himself is however less lucky. Having gallantly restrained his primal urges when he wakes to find a fair maiden swimming in the river dressed in “the clothes she was born in” his chivalry is rewarded by the ultimate “knock back” when he escorts her safely home by having the gate slammed in his face once the maiden is on the other side of it. (Or as Heidi so delicately put it when she introduced this one at her recent gig at the King’s Place in London, she tells him he can “feck off”).
And so the journey continues through a mix of traditional and contemporary compositions drawn from the rich heritage of traditional folk, and the extensive pool of talent which Heidi’s circle of friends and fellow performers includes. Despite an extensive list of talented musicians who appear on the credits list, Heidi’s voice remains the focal point throughout, and the more I listened, the more I was captivated. The final track is a tribute to one of Heidi’s guiding stars – Sandy Denny, and ‘At the End of the Day’ is a great end to a great mix of old and new folk music.
Of course recorded music , especially folk, is always better as a live experience, and Heidi & co. are on tour at the moment, so if they’re in your locality get down there. But in the meantime, The Last Star goes a long way to capturing the essence of folk, old and new.