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A Magazine for Sheffield


Bitter Lullabies is the debut album from Newcastle-based folk singer Bridie Jackson. Clocking in at just over half an hour yet still full of wide open spaces, it's a short but often intense glimpse into the world of a talented rising artist.

Before I even played the record my interest was piqued by the brilliantly unconventional band that Jackson has assembled, which features string players, a mandolin, glockenspiel, even a bassoon, with a touch of acoustic guitar appearing only intermittently. I've always thought it's essential for singer-songwriters to be imaginative with the arrangements of their songs to avoid being monochromatic, so I was really glad to hear a band with real variety, used subtly and carefully.

The album opens with a single glockenspiel playing a repeated simple motif, before being warmed by a lone cello and a choir of backing voices. The effect is wintery and windswept, yet still beautiful, absorbing and never boring. Later on, larger and varied ensembles accompany many tracks, while some are stripped back to just a cappella voices. The album is united by Bridie's voice. There's something a little manic about the speed with which her style changes, from strong and soulful to an emotional cry to an intimate near whisper. This impressive range is again, like the other instruments, used with great care.

The album was largely recorded in big live takes, many of which were on stage at the Sage in Gateshead, a beautiful new concert hall, and you can often hear the natural warmth and resonance of the room in the recordings. In a world of highly compressed artificial sounding music, the realness and imperfection of this record is a refreshing surprise. The recording style suits her songwriting, which, when at its best, is open-ended and spacious. My favourite tracks on this album have an improvisational feel, where threads of ideas are given space to mutate, mature and develop into dramatic and arresting pieces. The two gospel and country influenced songs near the end of the album perhaps don't fit the mood, though they do add to the overall variety.

Closing song 'All You Love Is All You Are' is also one of the most perfectly constructed and heartbreakingly beautiful ballads I've heard in a long time and rounds off the emotional connection that runs so vividly through the entire record.