Album review Scottish albums

Shona Foster

This Scots-born, Yorkshire bred singer songwriter embraces a unique blend of folk, acoustic, cabaret and even a bit of western on this follow-up to her ‘Hard Work’ E.P. through the use of a wide spectrum of instruments.
Taking its name from a line in the closing track, ‘The Moon And You’ opens with ‘Number 34’, a quirky little number about living in an old house and watching it fall apart. With its prickly piano, sweeping strings and the tick tock-ing of clocks, it has a special antique feel to it which is a notable feature in many of Foster’s songs.
‘Queens’ begins with a mood lifting ascending crescendo of strings before a low creeping bassline comes in and Shona’s enchanting vocals explore their own range. What’s particularly special is how the recording captures everything about her voice from her soft breathing to the sound of her lips touching together which serve to make the piece all the more genuine and intimate – on headphones it almost sounds as if she’s singing against your ear. This continues to the end with some added haunting harmonies. Up next is ‘Dancing Leaves’ and this cool guitar and piano piece shows the versatility of Foster’s voice. Again her vocals are soft and sweeping in the chorus as most of the backing instruments lay low, so as to focus all the attention on the vocals. Avoiding any stark comparisons, Foster’s voice almost has a Fiona Apple feel, particularly towards the end but with a deeper and much more dramatic vibe, emphasised by a base of low strings.
After the short and sweet spaghetti western inspired ‘Dusk’, ‘Love and War’ begins with persistent drum and bass beat as Shona is backed by deep male vocals and strings. Guitar bursts in with heavier drums as rock organ adds a dark funky twist, bringing back that Spaghetti Western influence from Dusk before Shona ‘da ra ra rum’s her way to the end. ‘Oh Patience’ is a soft magical love ballad led by guitar with trickles of piano. Shona’s echo-y vocals seem vulnerable at times yet confident at others. The drums build then it’s just Shona and her guitar, a beautiful combination as they intertwine with each other while the drums and bass come back in underneath. Foster’s quirky, funky side comes back with a vengeance in the form of ‘Bad Intentions’. In this jazzy, some may even say sexy tune, Foster sings of being led astray by the wrong kind of person. With a great cabaret vibe, Foster leaves behind the shy vulnerable vocals of previous tracks and sings with an almost new-found streak of confidence.
‘Sew Over’ is another short interlude, showing the album to almost be split into three parts. The rusty, static piano and atmospheric background noise almost give the effect of a haunted ice cream truck. This is accompanied by clarinet, glockenspiel and a sinister backing choir. Not for the faint-hearted. Foster then returns to her western influences in ‘Where We’ll Go’, some latin guitar creates a galloping effect with snare drum as Foster’s vocal melody is accompanied by xylophone. Later on, some deep organ and male backing vocals give the track much more depth. ‘Ferris’ is another bittersweet love ballad which begins ever so softly before quickly taking a sort of dark Circus-like turn. Foster sings of “Life on this ferris wheel” and you wonder if she’s just talking about the ride or someone actually called Ferris (or maybe both?). Tumbling rolling strings drop and lift, further adding to that Circus imagery before the song calms and returns to its love ballad form, with some nice alternating harmonies towards the end. Possibly one of the highlights of the whole album, ‘Be Bold’ is all about confidence and how to use it. The funky drum beat contrasts with the warm sweeping strings and soft fuzzy bass, but he chorus is where all the instruments come together, creating a catchy static beat. The song builds on this adding again some low male vocals and dominant strings, rising and falling until the rhythm changes and the tempo heightens, creating a flurry of instruments playing relentlessly before collapsing in on themselves.
Closing track ‘Collision’, is unlike any of its predecessors, it’s completely in a musical league of its own and by far the most magical and enchanting track on the album. To begin with, the track sounds as if it’s being played on an old gramophone, giving it a fantastic antique, static effect then this fades after the first chorus, almost giving the sense that Foster and her band could be playing right in front of you. From start to finish, Foster’s voice sweeps through your ears, beautifully accompanied by soft piano and cello. Sparks of electric guitar add dramatic effect, bass and timpani create more depth and Foster’s vocals become layered before everything is then stripped back again. Truly mesmerising. Hidden Track ‘Through it All’ begins with a simple, soft piano and guitar melody, followed by Foster’s breathy vocals, fluttering over the melody which is continued throughout the song.
Foster definitely has a fine collection of songs here, showing a great range of style, instrumentation and attitude. What I would’ve liked to have heard more of would be Foster’s quirky, fantastical side, more tracks like ‘Number.34’, ‘Be Bold’ and the title track of her debut E.P. ‘Hard Work’. But still, it’s pretty damn good.