(SXSW 2017 flavoured!) Album Review: Holly Macve – Golden Eagle

By on Friday, 3rd March 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Golden Eagle cover artOne of the most unique new voices I heard at SXSW 2016 was youthful country folk artist Holly Macve. Last year’s SXSW was a bit of a coming out party for Macve, who made a strong impression not only on myself, but on better-known music critics throughout Austin, including NPR’s Bob Boilen. Now, a year on from her American debut, Macve is finally set to release her long-anticipated LP ‘Golden Eagle’, which contains several of the songs we swooned over in Texas last spring.

Macve’s presence in Austin last year was unassuming and even shy, but there’s none of that in the recording of ‘Golden Eagle’. She sounds confident and sure of her rather unusual yodeling vocal technique, which is immediately reminiscent of Patsy Cline. But Macve takes the sound even a step further, often using it in conjunction with dramatic minor key harmonies to create a striking, almost operatic effect.

Those stunning harmonies appear straightaway in album opener ‘White Bridge’, under the melancholic lyrics “walking down this road I know so well / makes me feel like a child / living young and wild” and the repeating lines “Oh I remember well / that night we laughed and we fell / and I’ll never be the same again”. The song’s simple guitar and vocal arrangement expands to include just enough piano and backing vocals to convey the longing in Macve’s lyrics, without threatening to overtake her lead vocal line, which is the main focus throughout the album.

Early single ‘The Corner of My Mind’ is dark and instantly dramatic, and it showcases Macve’s precocious lyrical prowess. Though only in her early 20s, Macve conveys subtleties of emotion that would seem to be well beyond her years. Here, the brittle delicacy of her singing voice combines with an ominous and rather chilling narrative: “I called by my father’s house and he closed the door on me / he said ‘you’re no daughter of mine, and you never will be’ / the birds all flew away from the echo of the gun / come to me my dear, for you’re the only one”.

The entire album has a stark, stylistically vintage feel about it, like a faded black-and-white photograph from days long before digital photography was a thing. What’s most surprising is Macve’s ability to maintain the authenticity of that feeling, despite her relative youth and inexperience. Expansive songs ‘Shell’ and ‘All Its Glory’ are long, but never overwrought, and both could be easily imagined as part of a film soundtrack. Macve’s narrative songwriting stands out as something really special in ‘All Its Glory’, with evocative poetic imagery such as “I cast my eyes over blood red fields and I sink into my grave” and “the amber glow of the burning sky leaves a sinister beauty behind”.

‘Heartbreak Blues’ and ‘No One Has the Answers’ provide a couple of brief moments of respite from the otherwise dark tone of the album. These are not “happy” songs, per se, but they are a bit more upbeat, adding a quicker, shuffling tempo and maybe a just a hint of sass. In the undeniably catchy ‘Heartbreak Blues’, Macve cheekily warns a lover, “I’ll never take you to heaven without leaving you in hell”. ‘No One Has the Answers’ is remarkably self-aware in its philosophical lyrical tone, but its musical setting is lighter and brighter, even leaning toward the optimistic.

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Eponymous piano ballad ‘Golden Eagle’ is symmetrically bookended by the line “fly away, golden eagle, before you feel the pain”. It’s perhaps a predictable metaphor, but Macve’s vocals, and not her lyrics, are the real substance of this track. There are moments when her singing technique sounds unrefined, but the rawness is certainly part of its charm, and her producers have wisely left it in rather than polishing off the edge.

The album ends with the exquisite ‘Sycamore Tree’, which captivated my attention at last year’s SXSW. A bit sunnier, but still melancholic, this coming-of-age narrative makes use of broad metaphor and subtly shifting harmonies to reveal layer-upon-layer of underlying emotion. Macve’s exquisite delivery of the song’s final lines, “one day when I’m old / with a past behind me / I wanna lay down in the shade / of the same old sycamore tree”, draws the album to a close with a reminder to her listeners of what brought us here in the first place.

In the lengthy writing and recording process of ‘Golden Eagle’, Holly Macve has resisted the industry pressure to put out an album too quickly, instead allowing herself enough time and space to put together solid set of songs that accurately display her high level of talent. Emotionally genuine and technically precise, this is the kind of quality record that young artists dream of making. It’s been a long wait for ‘Golden Eagle’, but Macve’s patience has paid off in spades.

8.5/10

‘Golden Eagle’ is due for release on Friday the 3rd of March on Bella Union. Holly Macve is scheduled to appear in Austin again this year at SXSW 2017. After SXSW, she will play a list of live shows in England; you can find the details for that tour here. TGTF’s full previous coverage of Holly Macve is right back here.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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