Mishra – reclaim
Shedbuilt Records – October 29, 2021
It's not often that an album almost literally takes your breath away the first time you listen to it. but Mishra& # 39; S Reclaim has a freshness and lightness that did just that. I'm afraid I might be a little late for the Mishra party as I didn't register the band's 2019 debut album, The Loft Tapes (reviewed here), but Reclaim enthusiastically fired me to catch up quickly. Mishra describe themselves as a “global folk collective” and believe that their music “defies definition”. So, since a simple drawer is ruled out, let's start with the influences at the heart of their music. Indian percussive rhythms, slightly Celtic melodies, often played with a low whistle, British and North American traditionals, echoes of soulful jazz, all this and more are present and just waiting to be picked up by an attentive ear. But don't expect any of them to linger long, with the possible exception of the percussion. There are subtle and not-so-subtle changes built into each piece.
It takes both extraordinary musicality and limitless imagination to create all this into attention-grabbing music that is easy on the ear. Mainly responsible for this are the two people who make up the song and tune writing core of Mishra, Kate Griffin and Ford Collier. Kate is a clawhammer banjo player, described by Dan Walsh as "one of the top players in the country". But the talents she brings to Mishra are much broader, adding guitar and dobro to the instrumentation, and vocals that easily go with traditional Appalachian songs, classical Indian rhythms, and everything in between. This is the first time I've met Kate, but I heard Ford in 2013 when he was still in school when he was performing as one half of The Drystones at a Halsway Manor Easter showcase event for young musicians. Since then, in addition to the steadily growing drystones and the release of three albums, Ford has studied music at Sheffield University, where he met Kate and founded Mishra in 2017. His whistle playing is an integral part of the Mishra sound, while he also plays guitar and a range of African and Indian percussions. He learned to play the tabla from John Ball, a musician at the university. The connection was continued; John is now part of Mishra, plays tabla and santoor and brings his more than twenty years of experience with Indian classical music to the table. The Mishra line-up is rounded off by Joss Mann-Hazell on double bass and Alex Lyon with clarinet, bass clarinet and vocals. Her singing can be heard above all in harmony with Kate, the mixture of the two voices so well that there is a risk of permanent goose bumps when listening.
Reclaim begins with tabla and whistle, setting the mood for Truth, a song that the liner notes say was inspired by the "themes of childlike innocence in Phillip Pulman's His Dark Materials Trilogy." When Kate's voice kicks in, the initial, light-hearted rhythm has slowed down, the vocals fit in for a few lines before switching to a phrasing that is almost staccato. It doesn't stay with it for long either and the following section, which begins with “I want to know the truth…”, is rich in harmony and soulful phrasing, which, after thinking for a moment, reminded me of Sade's album Diamond Life. back to the 80s. So much to internalize, and only a little over a minute until the first track.
While songs make up the majority of the tracks, there are two melodies and each has a completely different feel. Reel to Reel is a series of tunes written by Ford. Of course, they accentuate his whistle, though Kate's banjo gets a glimpse of it along with a host of percussions. True to the title of the track, most of the melodies have a distinctly Celtic note. Nevertheless, the Indian percussion ensures that the oriental influence that pervades the entire album is never hidden for long. The second instrumental track, Remain, is nominally a Clawhammer-Banjo piece by Kate, but far more varied than it would suggest. It strongly depicts John Ball's Santoor playing, a kind of hammered dulcimer from India, alongside his usual percussive contribution. This, together with Ford and Kate, guarantees a share of the write credit. It's also a track where Alex Lyon's clarinets play a prominent role in the middle section. Kate acknowledges the overwhelming Indian vibe of the piece and describes it as loosely inspired by a raag from the classic Hindustani tradition, Raag Yaman. Rise also has its origins in a traditional raag, Raag Vrindavani Sarang, and as in tradition, Rise has a vocal component. It is sung by Kate, the lyrics were partly written by her and, I suspect, partly traditional.
The lyrics of the remaining songs are generally written by either Ford or Kate, with a few notable exceptions. Rolling English Road sets GK Chesterton's poem to music to a melody by Kate, the rhythm of which gently mirrors the poem's Rolling Road. Swell also has literary inspiration, this time around Yann Martell's Life of Pi, specifically Pi and the Tiger Who Rides the Storm. The track features Kate's Dobro, an instrument ideally suited to conveying the mood of the title, and is skillfully assisted by Alex on clarinet. Kate wrote lyrics, but the song also contains a spoken word section, written by Ben Allen, spoken by Ford. I Never Will Marry is the only traditional song on the album, Kate takes its version from Alan Lomax's collection. She accompanies her singing on the banjo, so far, so traditional. But the spirit of the album dictates that there is also India-inspired percussion; In addition, this track allows Joss to contribute the bowed double bass. In the wrong hands, that combination could spell disaster, but as with this entire album, the adventure pays off with the talent and imagination that Mishra offers.
As with their previous album, Reclaim was recorded as much as humanly possible with the entire band playing live at the Wayside studio in Gloucestershire. Kate and Ford produced, Andy Bell did the mixing and Martin Nicholls did the mastering. The result is a series of recordings that combine the best qualities of live performance with the polished sound that only a studio can provide. The recordings are bursting with vibrating energy. I know I can be pretty analytical when reviewing an album, and that wasn't always easy, Reclaim will. Mishra's music is compelling and, like any adventurous music, is able to take your mind to new and exciting places. An analytical brain doesn't go on such a journey without further ado, so I like to turn up the CD player and let Mishra do her magic again.
Pre-order reclaim via Bandcamp Now (according to their website, pre-orders will be dispatched one month prior to the October 29th release date): https://mishramusic.bandcamp.com/album/reclaim