Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * *
It seems strange to think in a modern context that the power of empathy is in danger perhaps, not of extinction but being carelessly tossed aside as if it were a paper bag caught in an updraft and destined to fight it out with the plastic in the sea. Compassion is there in the world but somehow understanding has been replaced in some quarters by the bullying tactic of rhetoric, of tough talk and sanctions, of bluster, wind and fury.
Empathy for our fellow travellers is only there it seems when they sing the same song as us, our bubble protecting us from the worst and yet when we dare breathe in the same air, we get offended, we are frightened and the meeting of minds that may have been possible, or at least the handshake across the divide, is lost in the Undersong unheard.
Five years after Salt House released their debut album, Undersong sees recent addition to the fold Jenny Sturgeon join Ewan MacPherson and Lauren MacColl in an album of songs that weave together landscapes and time but also the undercurrent of empathy into its beautiful narrative. The respect shown to such an emotion is fulfilling, it is gratifying and plentiful and in each song on offer, whether in the reworking of a Scandinavian ballad, settings for poetry or in the six new arrangements by Ms. Sturgeon and Mr. MacPherson, empathy, compassion and honesty abound.
It could be that Time plays nicely when it is treated right, when it is shown deference and longing, when it has melancholy and passion riding in its saddle. Time is the partner of empathy, without either there is no way to understand that what can happen to the person that dislikes you, can also happen to you in return; loss is not particular in who it strikes but it can lead to the very beauty encapsulated in a song. It is one that is arranged in tracks such as Turn Ye To Me, The Sister’s Revenge, The Road Not Taken and Slow Fields of Home with great sincerity and the spirit of the islands.
A beautifully realised album, Undersong is a passionate memory and imploring of souls to remind the listener to feel for others as they would feel for themselves.
Ian D. Hall