littlebow: Three
Rural Colours

One would be hard pressed to name another trio boasting not one but two flute players, but don't mistake littlebow for a novelty act: yes, that detail might serve as a convenient journalistic hook, but it merely hints at the wondrous soundworld the group generates. On this prosaically titled third outing, Katie English (Isnaj Dui, The Sly and Unseen) and Keiron Phelan (Smile Down Upon Us, State River Widening) bring harpist-vocalist Brona McVittie (Forestbrook, Rún, Queen Of Corkbots) into the fold, and in doing so render littlebow's bucolic blend all the more alluring. Similar to last year's memorable Smile Down Upon Us release, Three resists easy capture, ranging confidently across multiple genres and often integrating them into spellbinding wholes. Issued on the Rural Colours imprint in a modest, hand-made edition of 100 copies, the seven-song collection also draws upon the clarinet and drumming talents, respectively, of Jenny Brand (Kluster Ensemble) and Jerome Tcherneyan (Piano Magic).

The outfit's distinctive folk-pastoral sound is established early when “The Last Summer of the Century” augments hypnotic flute melodies with harp and acoustic guitar patterns. Though the opening track's combination of woodland sounds has a magical effect on the listener, the lilting, minuet-styled opus that follows, “The Swing That Creaks for the Child That Weeps,” casts an even more potent spell when McVittie's delicate voice drifts as lazily across the sundazed flute and harp textures as a rowboat on a country creek on a hazy summer afternoon. At thirteen minutes, the entrancing setting offers ample opportunity for meander and in that spirit ventures exploratively, working into its arrangement drums, clarinets, and subtle electronic touches as it does so. As captivating as the piece is, others exert a seductive pull, too: in an unexpected move, “Some May Transition” sees the group serving up a breezy samba drenched in harp and woodwind sparkle; the rather more ponderous “Too Green, These Widow's Weeds,” on the other hand, opts for brooding mystery.

As sonically rich as littlebow is, it's the flutes that earmark the group's sound most of all, especially in those moments when two appear together, as happens during “Some May Transition Drift” when the first's plaintive utterance is echoed by the second to chilling effect. It is, however, but one arresting moment of many on this stirring and refreshingly adventurous collection.

August 2016