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Sue Rynhart: Signals

Ian Patterson By

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Following her impressive debut, Crossings (Songs for Voice and Double Bass) (Self Produced, 2015), Dubliner Sue Rynhart returns with more finely crafted, beguiling songs. Once more, bassist Dan Bodwell lends hefty doses of jazz-inflection, his infectious ostinatos and roaming improvisations shadowing and shading the contours of Rynhart's artfully through-composed pieces. There are more timbral textures on Signals than its predecessor; Rynhart's deft use of mbira, recorders and zither, and Francesco Turrisi's lute and Medieval drum add specific colors that are, in the main, more mood-shaping than folkloric per se, while post-production wand-waving lends a touch of harmonic depth. Essentially, however, it's Rynhart's enigmatic, bewitching sung-poetry that burrows its way into heart and mind.

If Bodwell provided the anchor last time out, and his contribution here is equally significant, on Signals Rynhart occasionally casts boldly adrift of her moorings, going solo on both "Compassion," with its choral-like, layered vocal harmonies, and on "Summer Bell," a subtly lyrical sung-poem about lovers picnic-ing, where the purity of Rynhart's voice entices as much as the sensuously woven verse: 'He takes out a plum and he gives the plum to her, and she'll eat the plum slowly, she all on her hot summer back.'

Throughout the album, Rynhart's lyrics, tantalizingly open to interpretation, are so alive with color, atmosphere and suggestion that they would stand up very well as a set of poems. "The Coldest Month" in particular harbours darkness between the lines that belies Rynhart's gently spun delivery.

The poetic nature of Rynhart's lyrics is underlined on the whispered text of "The Tree," where Bodwell's bass creaks like a great trunk bending to the wind, and Rynhart's flute evokes chirping bird-song in a composition of bucolic melancholy. 'Where are the birds who nested in me? Where is the fox that shivered by my side? Oh cry my soul! For what I have soon will die with me'. The fox rears his head on 'Foxed,' a hypnotic tale of some ambiguity; Bodwell's ostinato churns to the rhythms of Rynhart's beguiling vocal on a song which seems to tap into ancient Celtic folkloric wells while remaining highly personal.

Rynhart's vocal improvisations are also her own; her scatting on the upbeat 'Be Content'—with its positive message of following your chosen path—and on the cinematic 'Black as The Crow Flies'—laden with striking imagery of hair on a pillow, bones washed up by the ocean, a crow flying across a new moon—feel delightfully carefree, in stark contrast to the lovingly chiselled poetry and cadences of every sung word.

The singer's canticle-like "In Dulce Jubilo" is given rhythmic backbone by Francesco Turrisi—of L'Arpeggiata fame—on Medieval drum. The Italian's strummed lute and beautifully articulated arpeggios have a more contemporary feel on "The Silliest Game," a song which could almost have come from Nick Drake's pen. Mbira pulse, bowed bass and Rynhart's high-pitched vocal steer the terse yet affecting "In Between," while "Little Sparrow" charts a beautifully simple melodic course. "Wall, Wall another Wall" blends looped spoken-word and ethereal vocal to curiously dream-like effect.

For all the rich lyrical veins that Rynhart mines, economy is one of her greatest strengths, with most of the tunes clocking in at around three minutes. These are beautifully sculpted vignettes that seduce on multiple levels. She's only two albums in, but already Rynhart sounds like one of the most original emerging voices in the hazy world where folk, improvisation and contemporary song entwine.

Track Listing: Compassion; Be Content; Foxed; The Tree; The Coldest Month; Black as the Crow Flies; Summer Bell; Silliest Game; In Between; Little Sparrow; In Dulci Jubilo; Wall, Wall, another Wall.

Personnel: Sue Rynhart: voice, mbira, recorders, zither; Dan Bodwell: double bass; Francesco Turrisi: lute, Medieval drum

Title: Signals | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Mrsuesue Records

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