Pamela Wyn Shannon – Courting Autumn

Album Review | Girlhenge Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5

My initial interest in Pamela Wyn Shannon was sparked by her rumoured return to the annual Nick Drake Gathering in Tanworth-in-Arden in 2007, where she would possibly be performing later that summer. I found the songs the singer had uploaded onto her website thoroughly engaging and interesting and together with the anticipation of finally visiting the Drake family home of Far Leys, paying my respects at the graveside and learning a few new unfathomable tunings at the workshops, I was really looking forward to bumping into Pamela. Sadly, due to unforeseen circumstances, she missed that particular gathering and I imagined for a moment that our paths might never cross again. To my astonishment, the November 2008 edition of fRoots magazine featured a full page article on Pamela and once again the magazine justly recognized an American singer songwriter, just as it had done a few months earlier with Devon Sproule and once again I felt less lonely in my appreciation for contemporary song writing for some inexplicable reason. Courting Autumn, Pamela’s follow up to her debut album Nature’s Bride, is something of a conceptual album with twelve songs based around the melancholy season, all arranged and presented with an intriguing ambient resonance. At times there’s the feeling that this album could quite easily have been recorded in the late Sixties, early Seventies, rubbing sleeves in an old cardboard box in the bedsit with Bridget St John’s Ask Me No Questions, Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day and dare I even suggest Astral Weeks. You have to enter Pamela’s website through a ‘mossy portal’, which is at once enchanting and spellbinding and somehow lends itself to this particular season. The songs on Courting Autumn have a vague familiarity about them almost like that feeling of déjà vu; you know you haven’t heard these songs before, well not in this life at any rate. Pamela has an assured guitar style reminiscent of Bert Jansch and augments most of the arrangements with fitting accompanying instrumentation, including glockenspiel, harmonium and mountain dulcimer, as well as eliciting the services of Liz Knowles, who brings to the recordings an ethereal quality with her sensitive playing of the violin, viola and cello. On “Wool Gathering”, even the sheep of Putney, Vermont get a credit for their bleating! The closing track on the album “Fare-Thee-Forlorn” is a poem set to a musical backing of reversed viola and cello courtesy of Knowles, and spoken in a soft unidentifiable accent that quite possibly is a mixture of Massachusetts, Irish, Welsh and Middle Earth. Pamela promises to follow up Courting Autumn in due course, with three more albums covering the remaining seasons, which is something of a tall order, especially if the intention is to match the quality of this one. Thoroughly enchanting.