ALBUM REVIEW: Waking The Witch Boys From The Abbatoir

SOMETIMES talented people have to resort to the obvious or the trendy if their music is to find the audience it merits.

Which probably explains why Yorkshire's exceedingly talented, all-female, acoustic four-piece Waking the Witch's new album is produced by Dave Creffield, he of Embrace and Kaiser Chiefs fame.

He describes the results of this unlikely collaboration as "indie acoustic" but has he really wrought such a major transformation on these four strong singers and four strong songwriters?

In truth, only five of these typically emotionally honest and intelligent songs about small towns and country hills, women betrayed and men loved, sound in any way like these harmonic angels have suddenly become a "band."

And most of those are built on acoustic sounds rather than electric, save for Rachel Goodwin's Me Leaving Me which features an addictively non-Big Country-like guitar groove from Big Country's Bruce Watson, the album's only genuinely rock moment.

Boys From The Abbatoir is certainly more upbeat, more outward-looking than their first two intimate albums. There's a distinct pop-blues swing to the likes of Only Human and Yorkshire Boy (breezy efforts written jointly by Patsy Matheson and Becky Mills) for example.

But even when sounding a bit like Corinne Bailey Rae (Jools Parker's My Conscience Keep) or KT Tunstall (Becky’s Horse To Water), the album's two most potentially commercial moments, this classy outfit instinctively flinch from anything cheesy.

What producer Creffield and an array of impressive guest musicans whose CV includes the Incredible String Band, Tasmin Archer and the Jon Strong Band have actually achieved is a tasteful and welcome dash of colour to Waking The Witch's strongest set of songs to date.

The mellatron on the pastoral Spring Song, the mini brass section on the pithy story-teller's classic Jenny Thornton & The Boys from the Abbatoir, the violin and cello on sweeping ballad Top of the Hill.

It may not guarantee Waking The Witch the album of the week slot in Sainsbury's they deserve, but Creffield has shown the good sense to leave those lush harmonies, memorable melodies and complex emotions alone.

You don't mess with four such strong characters, you don't mess with greatness.

Graham Chalmers

l Waking the Witch launch their album with a show at Leeds' City Varieties next Friday, January 25. For tickets, tel 08456 441881. They also play the Frazer Theatre in Knaresborough on Saturday, March 3. Tickets priced 10 from 01423 550519.