Release Date: Apr 23, 2013
Record label: V2 Records
Genre(s): Folk-Rock, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, British Folk-Rock
By the time Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire received the publicity boost of a Jack White endorsement in 2009, they'd already been refining their sound together for a decade, hence the tight parameters of their 2010 debut – a vintage folk and blues furrow ploughed rather well. They speak of having broadened their influences since then but Blood Speaks deals in familiar virtues: subtle, minor key laments on which their voices twine elegantly around brooding guitars. The mood of gathering gloom occasionally drifts rather close to torpor, but Feel It Coming Near and the sublime Awake usher the darkness in beautifully.
Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies became friends as schoolgirls in Sussex, where they began writing songs together before decamping first to New Orleans (for the music) then to Vancouver (for the view). All the while they were becoming Smoke Fairies, or what Smoke Fairies would become, taking snippets of American blues and bits of folk music that had made that same Transatlantic journey and folding them in with their own more overtly modern sense of clear-eyed gloom. Perhaps it was in those years that they fused into the two-headed swamp-siren they sound like today.
Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies' third outing under the Smoke Fairies banner finds the bewitching English duo wrapping their velvety voices and nimble guitar picking around another moody set of misty electric folk and turbulent Victorian blues. Like 2010's stellar Through Low Light and Trees, Blood Speaks feels both out of time and oddly contemporary, utilizing vintage gear and a storm of reverb to project a Pentangle/"Rhiannon"-era Fleetwood Mac vibe, while maintaining an undercurrent of bluesy, slide-driven Americana. The latter can be felt most prominently on tracks like "The Three of Us," "Take Me Down When You Go," and "Version of the Future," all of which sport an earthy patina of Southern gothic ambience, while more stately cuts like "Let Me Know," "Awake," and "Feel It Coming Near," the latter of which feels like a lost sibling to Low Light highlight "Devil in My Mind," feel like they were drawn from a more regional well.
Much has been spoken about Smoke Fairies’ geography. Jessica Jones and Katherine Blamire might hail from Sussex but they’d equally call America their home: they got their big break at SXSW and lived in New Orleans for a number of years before releasing their enchantingly folk-ish debut Through Low Lights and Trees. Ever since they’ve acquired seeing an ever-increasing fanbase, most notably Jack White, who liked them so much that he released one of their singles on his Third Man Label in 2009 and also invited them to support him on this year’s solo tour.
The English female psychedelic duo the Smoke Fairies have a very distinctive sound. Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire’s accents and voices blend and contrast in expressive ways tinged with a shade of mystic melancholy. The two women always seem in intense conversation with each other. The music comes off as affected but affectless; like a mannequin posed in a provocative manner wearing an inscrutable face.
There is a surprising muscularity to Smoke Fairies' music: unexpected not only because their name conjures up less corporeal images, but because there is a ladylike, almost prissy elegance to Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire's voices that could sit so easily with soft acoustic guitars. Brought up in Sussex, they've spent much of the past decade living in and travelling across the US, and you can hear it in the rebarbative blues that pulses through their best songs. Blood Speaks, their second album, kicks off with an insistent bass throb and angular drumming; Daylight melds trenchant piano to crackling electric guitar; while the wary violin notes slicing beneath Feel It Coming Near suggest a brewing storm which quickly breaks in crashing, thunderous chords.
There’s much to adore from the bluesy folk duo on this second set. John Aizlewood 2012 They may hail from leafy Sussex, but Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire are more American than most Americans. Indeed, their career path as Smoke Fairies and their musical values could hardly be more representative of the 50 states. Heavily steeped in Americana, they lived in New Orleans for a culture-soaking sojourn, many years before the release of their debut album Through Low Light and Trees.
In the wake of the banjos ‘n’ beards revival of recent years, it can be easy to forget that folk, as a genre, used to mean a bit more than a well-produced barn dance. Smoke Fairies’ second album brings more punch than pastoral – so much so that the only reason we’re referring to them as a folk act at all is because everyone else seems to for some reason. In fact we will persist with that tag if only because ‘Blood Speaks’, with its gently twisting spirals of electric guitar floating past unexpected bursts of noisy blues, comes across as a rock album made by those with quieter tendencies.