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Colin Irwin of fRoots

reviews Nine Witch Knots by Rubus

fRoots Playlist

Now here's an interesting little cocktail.

You'll know of Emily Portman for her collaborations with Lauren McCormick and Jim Causley in the now defunct Devil's interval and here she teams up with New York singer/ fiddle player Christi Andropolis, guitarist/ singer and former roots rocker David Newey and drummer Will Schrimshaw to tackle some of the more challenging songs in the folk canon. To these they apply bravely sparse arrangements which, set around the coolly intimate menace of Portman's vocals and occasionally odd rhythms,
contribute to one of the spookiest albums, since Dave & Toni Arthur's Hearken To The Witch's Rune a million years ago.

Christi Andropolis's sinister violin decoration is scarily appropriate to Greenwood Sidey and the daring space they give My Son David brilliantly underlines the agony of the song, making no concession to populism. Reminiscent of Shirley Collins, Portman's unadorned vocal approach is also effective on the eerie She's Like The Swallow and they've clearly worked hard at unearthing unusual or lesser known material like Sowing Song, which is almost anthemic compared to the rest of an album that is perhaps too dour and one -paced for its own good.

It sounds almost old-fashioned (mostly in a good way) although this may be a stumbling block to wider acceptance. They're certainly less sure on cheerier material than they are on the doom-laden stuff - the Prickly Bush variant Golden Ball fails to lift the spirits as maybe it should, they don't sound entirely at ease with the lively arrangement of Cornish Young Man and there's slight discomfort when drums enter the fray, making tracks like Watchet Sailor and Rolling Of The Stones unnecessarily leaden.
It's a bold, imaginative effort that I want to like more than I do.