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  Forever Presents ...

::: LIVE ::: WHELANS (Upstairs), Dublin ~ TUESDAY, June 10th 2008 ~
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The bittersweet, cascading harmonies of “The Good Years” sets the tone for Karine Polwart's new album This Earthly Spell (Hegri04). And it's been a good year indeed for The Scottish Borders based singer, who gave birth to her first child in 2007, and still managed to record enough material for not one but two new albums on her own label imprint Hegri Music.

Following the fireside intimacy of Scottish traditional collection Fairest Floo'er (Hegri03, Dec 2007), This Earthly Spell reinforces Polwart's reputation as a humane and perceptive songwriter who draws on indie and roots influences as much as folk traditions.

The chiming opening track, a gorgeous vocal setting of a lyric by eminent Scots poet Edwin Morgan, gives way to the steely, swampy “Sorry”, whilst the delightful jazz inflected whimsy of “The News” contrasts the anti-nuclear political bite of “Better Things” and the incisive “Painted It White”.

Unsurprisingly, for a new mum, three songs deal with motherhood. The poignant understatement of “Firethief”, which Polwart wrote originally for HIV/AIDS documentary “The Enemy That Lives Within”, one of BBC Radio 2's Radio Ballads, unravels a mother's loss; whilst she wrote the tender and delicate “Rivers Run” for her own son.

But it's the eerie and atmospheric parable “Tongue That Cannot Lie” that, most of all, betrays Polwart's background as a former philosophy teacher, and her ongoing fascination with moral ambivalence. Inspired by the supernatural legend surrounding thirteenth century Scottish Borders poet and prophet Thomas The Rhymer, it also distinguishes her as an ambitious and captivating storyteller.

Most of the album was recorded just a few miles away from her Borders home at the beautiful Heriot-Toun visual arts studio which she and her live band, with producer Calum Malcolm, transformed into a unique and intimate recording environment. But despite the rural influences, there's nothing escapist or sentimental about this collection of songs.

It's three years since Polwart scooped a trio of BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, including “Best Album” for her debut Faultlines and “Best Original Song”, an accolade she won for a second time in 2007. In the meantime, she's released two further solo albums, Scribbled in Chalk and Fairest Floo'er, and collaborated with the likes of Roddy Woomble and cult Glasgow indie outfit Future Pilot AKA. And she shows no sign of slowing down:

“More and more I feel like an album captures just a wee slice of time. I'm already working on new ideas and will be making new songs available through my website on a monthly basis this year for people who're interested. I think it's more and more important now for songwriters like me to offer something more than just a static piece of work.”

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Winner of “Best Album”, “Best Original Song” and the “Horizon Award” for Best Emerging Artist at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2005

Scottish Borders based singer-songwriter Karine Polwart has established herself at the forefront of the UK folk-roots scene after scooping three prizes at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in February 2005.

Polwart’s edgy and evocative writing and vocal poise have been steadily winning her respect and affection in the UK and internationally over the past six years as a member of traditional groups Malinky and Battlefield Band. Indeed, at 34, she’s no novice. But in her first full year as a solo artist, her profile as a writer and singer has broadened immensely and secured her widespread national radio play (including BBC Radio 2 play-listing) and a busy touring schedule for 2005 in addition to critical acclaim.

And it’s not just the folk scene that’s taken notice. Roddy Woomble of indie favourites Idlewild chose “Start it All Over Again”, co-written with her former band mate John McCusker, as one of his Top Ten tracks of all time in NME, alongside classics by The Ramones and Lou Reed.

Karine’s award-winning album Faultlines makes a mockery of lazy pigeon-holing. Though the songs resonate with roots influences, they are resolutely contemporary in feel and incisively intelligent in lyrical content, borrowing liberally from indie and alt-country as well as traditional folk music. The jazzy bass line and rhythmic ranting of feisty CD opener “Only One Way” contrasts with the elegiac lament “Waterlily” and the brooding filmic murder ballad “Azalea Flower”. Meantime, Karine’s award winning waltz “The Sun’s Comin Over the Hill” displays many of her trademark lyrical and musical qualities: compassion without sentimentality; a spacious and memorable melody; a delicate balancing of despair and determination; as well as linguistic elegance and wry sideways humour in equal measure.

Since leaving her work in the field of domestic abuse and child protection in early 2000, Karine has absorbed her musical and social interests into her reflective songwriting. With two degrees in philosophy, she succeeds in her aim to communicate profoundly personal and quietly political messages without posturing and with plenty of room left for individual interpretation. Her humanity and sense of justice, as well as her warmth and wit, shine through. She says,

“The thing I love most of all about writing songs is the meanings they take on for people who hear them. I’m really humbled by the stories they tell me about their lives and experiences. It’s a very scary feeling to articulate the heart of someone’s grief when you’ve never met them before or to sing something that gives someone hope. But I guess I’ve begun to see it as my job to move people or make them see things in a fresh way. Mind you, I’m not actually a miserable person!”

Raised in a cottage on a hill a mile from the Stirlingshire village of Banknock, Karine lives, writes and records now on a hill in rural south-east Scotland with her partner and Fautlines collaborator Mattie Foulds, where, she confesses, the relative isolation and natural beauty of her surroundings offset her lifelong fascination with the grey underbelly of human experience.

A natural communicator and storyteller in live performance, Karine strives, in similar manner, to balance poignancy and intimacy with more than a dash of humour - with songs involving arses, plumbers and wonder dogs - and has a vibrant and youthful stage presence that belies the maturity of her outlook.

Meantime, her voice manages to combine strength and frailty in equal measure: vital on songs such as Faultlines itself.

Borders crumble every day
The faultlines are showing
And all I thought was here to stay
Slowly is going

Karine Polwart has something to say and she says it beautifully.



“melodic and literate songs … her wealth of experience has given her writing a satisfying depth and rounded wisdom” -The Times, January 2005

“an effortless sounding gem” -UNCUT, March 2005

"a songwriter of rare power ... her penetrating, understated brilliance with words and melody can give a single line of velvet-voiced metaphor the ability to raise neck hairs" -MOJO, May 2004

“exceptional songwriting” -SONGLINES, June 2004

“Polwart has already proven her qualities as a singer many times over, but she also emerges on this disc as a humane and literate songwriter, with a genuine gift for conjuring up memorable lines and catchy melodies”-The Scotsman, February 2004

“a seriously engrossing album and she sings at all time with subtlety and strength” -Daily Telegraph, January 2004

“There’s passion here and you don’t have to dig too deep to find it” -The Big Issue (Jan 2004)

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