Album Release | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 5/5
I was well aware as I faffed about with the settings on my Nikon D5100 that we were steadily losing light on the opening night of the 2017 Cambridge Folk Festival, just after Midnight Skyracer left the club tent, following their rather tastefully rendered Thursday evening set. We missed our opportunity during the afternoon at the duck pond, the predictable and overused haven for publicity snaps, due to the pre-festival traffic chaos across town. With the light fading fast, I almost resigned myself to the fact that we’d missed the boat on this occasion but as luck would have it, the five musicians of this newly formed all-female bluegrass outfit left the stage just as the evening light decided to play fair with my camera’s limited capabilities. I quickly assembled the musicians in a line just behind the stage, asked them to pick up their instruments and to pretend that I had just told them the funniest joke in the world. After no more than half a dozen snaps, there it was, the photograph that now graces the back of this lovely debut album. If this describes adequately the extent of my involvement in the making of the album sleeve, then the word that describes my contribution to the material contained within would be ‘zero’, clearing my conscience in order to write a few words of how I feel about the music. The 45-minute set that the packed Cambridge audience witnessed on that Thursday evening back in the summer, provided a clear indication of what these gifted musicians were capable of doing when it came to the recording of a studio album. The Carrivick Sisters after all, had been here before and were no doubt thinking to themselves, wait ‘til they hear this! A few months earlier, Charlotte and Laura had slipped me an early nod and a wink as to what they were up to and this performance at the Cambridge Folk Festival had been very much anticipated. I wanted this debut album to be good and I’m delighted to say that it has exceeded my expectations tenfold. Fire is actually a great record, with some fine performances, both in terms of its instrumental prowess and its vocal delivery. Described as a ‘hard driving Anglo-Irish Bluegrass band’, Midnight Skyracer features the talents of Leanne Thorose on mandolin, Tabitha Agnew on banjo, Charlotte and Laura on guitar and fiddle/dobro respectively and Eleanor Wilkie driving things along on double bass. A ‘supergroup’ of sorts made up of musicians who have served time in such outfits as the Absentees, Cup O’Joe, Cardboard Fox and Reckless Abandoners, Midnight Skyracer has all the vital components to compete with other bluegrass outfits not only in the UK but also on an international scale. If the dexterous playing and fine arrangements are all perfectly in place – just listen to their treatment of Hazel Dickens’ “Working Girl Blues” and the traditional “Susan Anna Gal” for proof of that – then the cherry on top of this proverbial cake, must be the two lead voices of Leanne and Tabitha; the former who injects a hard-hitting and determined country-inflected growl, whilst the latter provides a smooth, breathy, delicate alternative, which brings to the album a beautiful contrast. Added to this, the sibling harmonies of the Carrivick twins, with Laura also providing the lead vocal on Bill Monroe’s “Sitting Alone in the Moonlight”, the whole thing dovetails together with seamless precision. Fire hasn’t been off the player throughout the festive season and I dare say it’ll stick around until the spring, and then no doubt beyond that.