“A voice that’s both awestruck and tender”
—The New York Times
‘Angels Without Wings’ is an album of original compositions glowing with special guests from the worlds of folk, pop, rock and bluegrass. Featuring collaborations with Mark Knopfler, King Creosote, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, Karine Polwart, Louis Abbott (Admiral Fallow) Julie Fowlis and more.
When Mark Knopfler and Jerry Douglas offered to play on Heidi Talbot’s new album, they thoughtfully recorded their parts in several different styles – some were instantly recognisable, others more low-key. Talbot’s husband, producer and bandmate John McCusker joked, “you’ve got the best guitar players in the world and we’re blending them in?” But both musicians knew that for Talbot, the song always comes before the name.
Subtlety is Talbot’s magic ingredient – from her gossamer voice to the delicate re-working of traditional and contemporary material that earned her rave reviews for her 2008 breakthrough In Love And Light. The girl from Ireland’s Co. Kildare, who spent several years in New York as a member of the Irish-American supergroup Cherish The Ladies, slips effortlessly between musical worlds but retains a personal modesty rooted in traditional folk.
Talbot began writing songs on her 2010 album The Last Star. In just two years she’s become a master of the art, sometimes composing alone, sometimes with McCusker and Boo Hewerdine (who form her touring band). Kenny Anderson (King Creosote) became a new creative foil after the pair discovered a mutual admiration:
“He was asked to pick his fantasy band for The Independent and he picked me and Morten Harket from A-ha on joint lead vocals,” Heidi laughs. She conceived the melody for Button Up – a brooding, urgent acoustic love song – with Anderson in mind, and he sent back his own lyrics.
“At home we listen to Belle And Sebastian and Teenage Fan Club as much as we do The Fureys and Mary Black,” she says, of her song-writing’s broad appeal. The best modern folk music gets right to the heart of human drama while remaining oblique about time and place: ‘Wine & Roses’ is a poignant contemporary reminiscence about young lovers “holding hands and rubbing noses”; I’m Not Sorry is a mini-psychodrama written from a single moment of reflection – “I felt it so it can’t be wrong to sing about it.”
And while the timeless language of traditional folk will always be an inspiration, there are traces of Americana in ‘When The Roses Come Again’ (feat. Mark Knopfler), a delicate country-tinged duet with bluegrass legend Tim O’Brien, and Parisian romance in the unforgettable title track by Boo Hewerdine, laced with vintage accordion.
Talbot and McCusker were keen to capture the spontaneity of performance: the album was recorded live in Glasgow’s new Gorbals Sound Studios with her regular team Ian Carr (guitars), Phil Cunningham (accordian), Michael McGoldrick (flutes/whistles), James Mackintosh (percussion), Boo Hewerdine (acoustic guitar) and Ewan Vernal (bass). “If people made mistakes we’d just keep going,” says Heidi. “On some of the tracks you can even hear the harmonium creaking. These guys are friends, they all give their opinion. They’ll say, “that’s it! That’s the take!’”
Talbot’s close-knit creative environment has fostered her confidence as a songwriter while allowing her to welcome in surprising new collaborators. These ever-evolving musical relationships can be heard on this, her most sophisticated and vibrant recording to date.