Album Review | Witch Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5
After the break-up of Waking the Witch, the vocal tour de force that possibly didn’t quite reach the lofty heights it should have, founder member Patsy Matheson returns with a delightfully stripped down album of self-probing and observational songs as well as, for a change, a couple of timely protests to keep the blood flowing. On A Little Piece of England, Patsy approaches the vocal arrangements in a different manner to her previous two solo projects, and certainly a world away from WTW, abandoning multi tracked vocals and stripping down her arrangements to the basics with sparse accompaniment from producer and guitarist Sam Bartholomew, Chumbawamba percussionist Harry Hamer and Gina Dootson, lending a hand on backing vocals. Patsy writes skilfully and intelligently and never assumes a throw away song will do. Themes such as war in “Precious Little Soldier” and politics in “Play the Game” address current issues from a perspective that is so often overlooked. Opening with a yearning love song, “Addicted to You” eases the listener in and you tend to feel this gentle album is not going to be over burdened with dance tunes. From the start, instead of the catchy potential single or the fanfare anthem that all too often serves as an introduction, Patsy spills her heart out with a song of betrayal that instantly draws you into the consequent burden of facing up to the harsh fact that this suggested relationship can no longer go on. The mood of the album is both plaintive and uplifting at the same time. It is as the title suggests; a bunch of songs that evoke the spirit of just a small simple corner of England, yet the themes are big and juicy. As every soap opera story line clearly suggests, there is a lot of drama in the smallest of places, and in this little piece of England, the drama unfolds with a brooding delicacy. Even Tom Reddy’s artwork reflects the duality that this album offers, the ethereal and imaginative flights of fancy together with the harshness of mortality, as can be observed in the accompanying drawing for “Precious Little Soldier”. This is late night music, songs you imagine listening to by candlelight after the day is done. “Treading Water Town” addresses what we all feel about hopelessness; when we find ourselves stuck in a rut we first of all look at the negative options. Salvation comes from self-determination but is so often ignored. Like some Woolfeian tragedy, despair and hopelessness results in the inevitable, all of which we can read about in the tabloids tomorrow. “This New Song” introduces ambient sound effects behind a crisp and clear guitar accompaniment. Patsy’s emotive vocal delivery verges on the vulnerable and one can sense that the singer is completely oblivious to everything going on around her, so absorbed in the intuitiveness of the singer and the song, that the notion of love almost takes second place. “Sunday Morning Song” is a delicious song about home, family and relationships. Three simple verses later and there is absolutely no doubt that the Rolling Stones shirt looks better on the singer than the subject, despite what ‘they’ say. This is personal stuff, which could have a profound effect on you if you allow it to. Whilst “Lamb to Slaughter” takes an observant look at the more despicable side of the camera, to those who feed on the misfortune of others, albeit to satisfy the hunger of we the tabloid subscribers, there is an almost reluctant acceptance as to the fate of anyone who becomes successful. Patsy drew on a documentary about Amy Winehouse for the basis of this melancholy observation, and at the moment, I’m finding it difficult to think of anyone more accurately suited to this continuing injustice. It’s not all tears and melancholy though, A Little Piece of England has its share of more uplifting material such as the almost traditional “Ulverston Gypsy”, a song that Patsy admits is an attempt to re-write Gypsy Davy as a ‘female equivalent’. Filled with Lake District imagery, the song has a timeless quality that will have this reviewer seeking out the gypsy girl next time he’s in Ulverston, knowing only too well that she’ll already be gone, always one step ahead. The title song which closes the album is a personal observation of home and one suspects that after extensive touring with Waking the Witch, or in partnership with Becky Mills, Patsy’s comfort zone is very much here, overlooking Fulneck in Yorkshire, with an astonishing view from the house and quite possibly ground coffee brewing by her side. Delightfully English.