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Holly Macve gives the spirit of The Grand Ole Opry a modern twist

"Golden Eagle"

Release date: 03 March 2017
Album of the week
Holly Macve Golden Eagle
20 February 2017, 10:22 Written by Ed Nash
The singer-songwriter as a storyteller is the foundation of country music, yet as a genre it’s often perceived on these shores to be a one-dimensional world, where lonesome cowboys muse upon why their girl has gone and doggone left them. With her debut Golden Eagle, Holly Macve proves such thinking to be a fallacy.

Country has been responsible for some of the most heart-breaking songs in music’s canon, a perennial favourite being Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” with its peerless line “And I need you more than want you and I want you for all time.” A similar feeling of melancholy can be found on Golden Eagle, but as much as the narrative is, like Campbell’s titular hero, stuck on the line at points, it’s also a record full of a desire to escape, to change and to keep moving.

To set the scene, the opening “White Bridge” sees Macve intoning “I’m coming home again / where I can see the world in front of me” in glorious full voice. There’s an almost American twang to her vocals, where accompanied by a simple, plucked acoustic guitar she sings about the realisation of a sense of change, “I looked at the world with different eyes.” Sometimes you simply can’t go home again however, and the nature of transition leads Macve to conclude, “I’ll never be the same again.”

The sense of movement, be that from someone or simply not staying in one place literally or spiritually, is reinforced on “Timbuktu” (“I’ll be here waiting for that train to Timbuktu / I’ll be waiting for my chance to run from the truth”), yet on the following “Fear” such movement is revealed as something that’s difficult to achieve, where the narrator is seemingly caught in a state of limbo. “I saw that train coming and I watched that train pass me by.”

While the more plaintive songs are performed solo by Macve, her mighty backing group thrillingly flesh out the full band songs. There’s the restrained Americana of “Heartbreak Blues”, a song with the classicism of a Gram Parsons composition, where Macve uses the Country music trope of the gunslinger - “He shot me down, but I hit the ground when he had his fun.” The catchiest song on Golden Eagle is the relentlessly hummable “No One Has the Answers". The rhythm has a swagger that evokes a modern take on Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line”, as Macve narrates a story of a summer spent by the sea, where “My best friend was a homeless man… secretly I loved him so, but he was twice my age.”

When Macve plays the final two songs solo the performances possess as much power as the songs with her band. On the piano accompanied title-track her singing soars all over the arrangement, it’s a vocal performance that wouldn’t have sounded out of place onstage alongside Hank Williams at The Grand Ole Opry. And again, it returns to a desire to escape, “There’s a sky waiting for you, so let your feet escape the chains.”

The closing “Sycamore Tree” featuring just voice and guitar eases the record out the way “White Bridge” ushered it in. The singing mutates into a delirious yodel at points, as the chords move from major to minor. It neatly closes the records’ narrative, as Macve uses the metaphor of a flower blooming and withering to describe the nature of change. “I was always afraid to face the truth / that day I jumped further from my youth / but that’s just the way it is.”

Golden Eagle is a wonderful collection of songs and tales that ultimately find a sense of redemption. Over its ten songs Macve displays an innate talent for exquisite songwriting and storytelling in a voice that is just jaw-dropping. In doing so, she’s given country music an enthralling new spin that sounds both out of time and modern, and shown that the modern incarnation of the genre has stories to tell that are just as engrossing.

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