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The Days That Shaped Me
Marry Waterson & Oliver Knight The Days That Shaped Me

Released 25 March 2011
Producer Oliver Knight
Label One Little Indian
Length 48:53
Genre Folk
Website watersonknight.com
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Folk legend Lal Waterson, of one of British Folk’s most revered families, died in 1998 after a short battle with cancer. She was best known for the work she did with her siblings in the sixties and seventies but in the years prior to her death she began releasing albums with her son, Oliver Knight. Nine years after her death a special tribute concert was organised and featured brother, Mike Waterson and sister, Norma Waterson, as well as cousin, Eliza Carthy and special guest fans, James Yorkston and Kathryn Williams, among various other notable folk acts. Son, Oliver and daughter, Marry Waterson, were on hand that night to sing one of their mother’s songs, 'Fine Horseman'. Although she grew up in a rich musical environment, Marry had previously not followed her mother into the family business, preferring to work as a graphic designer. However, with their performance that night came a revelation, Marry was a chip off the old block, and that together the duo were something special.

Over the course of subsequent tribute shows that year, their collaboration begun to take form. They began rehearsing and writing until eventually they had an album’s worth of material, and the outcome is surprisingly good. It was clear that Marry could sing, but she also writes very well too. It was always safe to assume that Oliver’s time accompanying his mother would inform the work and his guitar accompaniment breathes life into her words and brings structure to the compositions. It is accompaniment and nothing more- he doesn’t try to compete with Marry’s voice but complements it and the union works beautifully.

Opener 'Father Us' is a great start to the record, showcasing the ethereal quality of Marry’s voice in the first few seconds. It’s also notable for some lovely harmonies from Kathryn Williams, the first of several special guests. Second song 'Revoiced' is traditional folk, acknowledging Lal as Marry channels her through her voice. It flows into 'The Gap', which has a contemporary strum whilst still acknowledging folk tradition. Oliver’s bluesy guitar playing is responsible for a lot of the album’s modern flavour, and although the environment is unmistakeably folk, he is also incorporating various other styles into his playing. It’s not surprising to learn that as well as having played with his mother, Oliver has added blues guitar to a whole host of other artists’ works. 'Curse The Day' drifts back into a kind of archaic folk, jarring somewhat with the modern-day flavour introduced earlier. Concerns are short lived however, as just when you thought things may get a little backwards-looking 'The Loosened Arrow', with its experimental layered lead vocals (by Eliza Carthy) and unusual percussion, kicks things up a gear. In 'Windy Day', there is a beautiful piano accompaniment, and the album never returns to straight folk template. The fresh feel persists throughout the album– folk steeped in tradition but sounding like it was recorded today. Although the guitar is the dominant instrument throughout, other instrumentation, such as strings and trumpet, is used in places to apt effect, particularly the piano to the fore on 'Windy Day' and 'Another Time'.

'Rosy' is one of several songs that seem to be most overtly about their mother, here underlined by the inclusion of violin from cousin Eliza Carthy. The title track evokes rich childhood days with great affection, acknowledging the debt the project owes to the influences of their upbringing. This sentiment continues with 'Angels Sing' where Marry sings, "your lines in twine with mine as we sing to a different tune…brother here’s a shoulder to help you get over, from time to time, she’s in my rhyme".

One of the albums highlights is James Yorkston guesting on 'Yolk Yellow Legged', co-written with Marry. The juxtaposition of their voices works so well it almost seems a shame that this pairing was not extended to other tracks on the album. The album also runs slightly overlong, although it would be hard to choose what to omit. In any case, it’s certainly worth waiting for Kathryn Williams’ vocal performance on closer 'Secret Smile'. Overall, this low key record is an affecting and melancholic tribute to their late mother, an impressive debut and hopefully not the last we will hear from this talented duo.

- Ray Burke