Every once in a while a special voice comes along. I’m not talking about good voices, or even great voices here, because there are thousands of those. I’m talking about outstanding voices, technically brilliant and distinctive, instantly recognisable voices.
You can play this game tonight down at the pub if you like, but if you can name more than a couple of dozen then I suggest that your quality filter isn’t really turned up high enough. For what it’s worth, here’s a few for starters: Nina, Aretha, Dusty, Nick (Drake, not Heyward), Robert, Dolly, Jeff (Buckley, not Lynne), Freddie, Paul (Buchanan, not Young), Laura (Marling, not Branigan), Amy, Elizabeth, Adele. People who have reached the pinnacle of the popular music voice. People who could sing their way through the phone book and still shift albums. I know there will be some on that list that you won’t agree with, I’m even more certain that you can put forward a decent argument for some that I’ve missed. (Did I hear someone shout “Joni”?)
All of which is my roundabout way of telling you that I think I might have heard a new one. Holly Macve, only 21, from Galway, then Yorkshire and raised on Dylan and the blues by her Mother, is about to release an album, called ‘Golden Eagle,’ which might just stop you in your tracks and make you re-assess your list.
Mostly recorded in Newcastle at the home studio of Holly’s Bella Union stablemate Paul Gregory (of Lanterns on the Lake), Golden Eagle is an out and out Country and Western album in the traditional mould, with goosebump-inducing tales of woe and torment, defiance and resilience, all delivered courtesy of Holly’s remarkable voice.
The musical arrangements are perfect, but generally deliberately designed not to steal the thunder of Holly’s voice, with many tracks being simply guitar or piano (or a combination of the two). The opening track for example has Holly weaving her voice around one such simple guitar and piano accompaniment. It’s an audacious way to kick off a debut album, but it instantly informs the listener that they’re in for a very special treat.
Elsewhere, the addition of bass and drums sees the album in familiar country, as Holly sings and yodels her way around ‘Heartbreak Blues’ a tune so perfectly written that it sounds instantly familiar and has already grabbed some plays on Radio 2. Inevitably, partly due to the quality of the writing, there will be Gillian Welch comparisons and Holly has the same ability as Laura Marling to sing ‘around’ the melody. And ‘Fear’ suggests an Eddi Reader-like ability to fully inhabit a song, but these comparisons relate more to levels of accomplishment than to musical style.
The best two offerings are nestled together on side two; ‘No One Has the Answers’ is an infectious beauty, as well-written as it is audaciously delivered (it also features the wonderful lyric “My best friend was a homeless man, with a beard to hide his face, secretly I loved him so, but he was twice my age”) and the title track, ‘Golden Eagle’, slower and more considered than ‘No One Has the Answers’, is a not far short of perfect way to spend six and a half minutes.
A new, unique voice to add to your list.
I wrote a book about music once. It's called "The Great Cassette Experiment" and you can buy it for your Kindle. I'm busy writing another one. And the one after that one will almost certainly be a biography of the German genius behind Boney M and Milli Vanilli, Frank Farian.
I was 50 years old when I wrote this, however by the time you read it I will be at least 51.