Jeff Gillett of Shreds & Patches
reviews Blood & Honey by The Devil's IntervalTo me, this is a genuinely exciting development: a collection of mostly traditional songs performed tastefully and skilfully by three young singers with an evident love for the material and the sensitivity and imagination to present it without wrapping it in cotton wool. The devils interval, from which the band take their name, is a tritone or augmented fourth, a technical discord which creates a deliciously spooky effect. (Play C and F# together to see what I mean.) For Lauren McCormick, Emily Portman and Jim Causley, the name clearly reflects their attitude towards vocal harmony, which is consistently adventurous and inventive. Far from being harsh or displeasing to the ear, the results are often simply gorgeous: Ive listened repeatedly to Silver Dagger, and know the precise point in the third line of the first verse where the warm shiver will run up my spine (and I wont be even thinking of the Joan Baez version of the song that Ive known and loved for over thirty years). Each arrangement on this album has clearly been carefully crafted, with shifting harmonies, variations in texture, timing, tempo and dynamics, unexpected chord changes and judicious use of unison singing, and always with the words very much in mind. If I have a criticism, it is that the arrangements are almost too studied, but with such a wealth of surprises, appealing to the heart as much as to the head, the trio deserve nothing but praise.
There are too many memorable moments to mention, so Ill just list a few: the point half way through the second verse of The Leaves of Life when they shift from unison to harmony; the stark and dramatic unison in Long Lankin; the moment in The Well Below the Valley when the time signature switches and the tempo picks up; each variation in the delivery of the chorus of Emilys setting of John Dyers Down Among the Dead Men, from exuberant acceleration, to gentle swinging, to the final rallentando; the numerous unexpected turns or slides from one singer or another, or all three simultaneously. Scarcely less surprising after five unaccompanied songs is the jaunty accordion and concertina playing from Jim and Emily on Two Crows, which initially slips in almost unnoticed, to be joined by Laurens flute for a Morris jig finale, complete with slows. Two other songs feature instrumental work. Laurens A May Carol, for which she provides lead vocal, is accompanied throughout, then closes with her tune The May Waltz, initially led by flute then with concertina and accordion interweaving. Long Lankin makes sparing but clever use of all three instruments for dramatic effect. Other highlights include the opening song, Green Valley (largely from Chris Coe) and The Bonfire Carol (collected? by Ruth Tongue). Lighter moments include Studying Economy and Blow Me Jack (essentially, John Kirkpatricks version of Domeama).
In all, this is a striking debut from three fine singers (and capable instrumentalists) working closely together. They clearly have their own ideas, but have also clearly listened wisely and well. To my mind, that is what carrying the tradition forward is all about.