Karine Polwart & Dave Milligan Still As Your Sleeping
Review by Chris Nickson
Karine Polwart possesses an instantly recognizable voice, one that catches the ear with its gentle Scots burr. Her singing possesses such an inviting warmth that it draws listeners in and wraps the song around them, so it’s not only the singer who inhabits the song - and that’s a very rare gift. This time out, she puts away her guitar and teams up with her neighbor (quite literally, as they live in the same village), jazz pianist Dave Milligan, for an album that takes in a selection of traditional music, a cover or two and some of Polwart’s staggeringly good originals.
With just voice and piano, the pair do bold, sensitive justice to the exquisite material, beginning with the emigrant song “Craigie Hill.” Sung at her grandfather’s funeral, it’s a song full of personal resonance for her, and that emotion rings quietly through this version.
"The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood" (excerpt)
Don’t expect anything wildly uptempo here. Polwart plays to her strengths, mostly having the luxury of time to draw out the range of feelings in the words. Whether old or new, she can find something fresh in there. Her take on Richard Fariña’s “The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood” stands as a prime example. It’s a lovely song, even hackneyed from so many covers, but the unusual percussive arrangement from the piano here highlights the plaintive voice to bring out the underpinning of hope, vital in these difficult times. Similarly, she manages a softly swooning version of Kate McGarrigle’s glorious “Speak To Me Of Mendocino” that carries you across the Atlantic and the North American continent to a place of contentment.
"The Path That Winds Before Us" (excerpt)
There are three of her own songs on the album, one co-written with Milligan, but it’s “The Path That Winds Before Us,” about her own small community, that’s the standout. A celebration of a place standing firm, helping each other through the pandemic, it’s a lyrical, quietly rolling eulogy to friends and neighbours.
Polwart has exquisite taste; everything here is an immaculate song, beautifully delivered, and the album all the better for a piece from the late Michael Marra, whose “Heaven’s Hound” is a song of remarkable power.
"Ae Fond Kiss" (excerpt)
Just as “Craigie Hill” was sung at her grandfather’s funeral, Robert Burns’s “Ae Fond Kiss” was the music of her grandmother’s passing, which means that it’s only right it should form the bookend of what’s quite simply a breathtaking release.