Label: Lanternlight Sound
If ever there were a singer for whom the word “steadfast” might seem tailor-made, then it’s Margaret. And here, on her latest CD, that can be taken in all senses of the word: First, in the consistency and forthright quality of Margaret’s tone and her staunch vocal control. Second in the sheer tenacity of the chosen songs, which have been clinging to Margaret over a long period of time. Third, in the sort-of-thematic thread which emerges from the actual choice of songs, that of loyalty – whether to a loved one, a cause, a class or a memory for example. Taking the first meaning first: Margaret is an Australian singer whose characterful, full-toned and expressive voice is well capable of holding attention throughout the span of a whole CD (in this case 47 minutes), without feeling the need for any instrumental accompaniment or embellishment. Her sole concession in that regard is to recruit her friend Christina Mimmocchi to provide some lovely vocal harmonies on six of the fifteen songs.
But her own special involvement in her chosen material, along with the tremendous variety in style and subject of the individual songs, enables the listener to be similarly involved, to the extent that he/she rarely (if at all) notices the lack of accompaniment. This impact is all the more striking when, as here, a large proportion of the songs are likely to be unfamiliar to UK audiences. Most well-known, without a doubt, are Wild Goose Shanty – which Margaret often sings with all-male crew The Roaring Forties – and The Devil’s Nine Questions, an American variant of one of the most popular Child Ballads. I’ve always loved Bernie Parry’s song The Goblin’s Riddle, and Margaret’s rendition of this magical tale is quite spellbinding. Another welcome re-discovery here is Anne Lister’s Rosemarie, which Margaret learned from Sarah Morgan and here turns into an album highlight. Margaret augments her repertoire of songs about the steel industry with the powerful but little-known Roger Watson opus Back To The Kitchen Again, while her espousal of important causes comes to the fore on Judy Small’s adaptation of the dark Peggy Seeger vision Four-Minute Warning, Paul Spencer’s environmental commentary Machines Are Closing In, and Frankie Armstrong’s inspirational, defiant Shall There Be Womanly Times. And of course Margaret gives welcome exposure to a number of Australia-centred songs, best of which is undoubtedly The Hungry Mile, a setting of radical 30s poet Ernest Anthony’s Depression tale.
Margaret’s well regarded for her keen ability to vary her expressive approach with the demands of the song, and Steadfast provides a very convincing demonstration indeed of this gift. Strongly recommended.
STEADFAST Margaret Walters www.margaretwalters.com
Margaret Walters has been an important stalwart of the folk scene for as long as I can remember. Her contribution to folk music in Australia has been immeasurable, and this should be celebrated and acknowledged at every turn. Her latest CD, Steadfast, is appropriately named, for she has been true to her calling ever since she began singing more than 30 years ago..
Her efforts have been on two main levels: Her warm and unique voice, with its special emphasis on a cappella singing and her own style with its decorations and strong emotional expression, has been heard just about anywhere there is folk music happening in these parts. She has also lent her voice to others, such as her important collaborations with songwriter John Warner and The Roaring Forties.
In addition, she has been a big promoter of folk music in general. This has been through concerts, festivals and events in which she has participated or has herself instigated, through information-sharing, and through the many informal singing sessions she has tirelessly organized – one way to keep the folk music she so loves alive for everyone. She has taken her singing to England on several occasions, where she has been welcomed, sharing many of our Australian songs with her audiences as well as bringing back to us songs she has heard during her travels.
It is against this backdrop that Steadfast has such a special meaning and role. It is Margaret Walters at her best, a faithful showcase of her special voice and style, as well as the range of songs she has collected and sung over the years.
I have often wondered, “Where does she get all these songs?” Many in this CD are quite new to me. They are all presented in her own way, and most feature a traditional sound, even if not actually traditional. Each one is appealing in its own right, and there are little stories and twists to keep our interest. Some of the more serious songs, delivered with emotion and fervour, are towards the end. They creep up on the listener to demand closer attention and are a testament to the social and environmental concerns that permeate much of Margaret’s singing.
No doubt there are still people around who are surprised to find that unaccompanied singing can be interesting even without embellishment from instruments, but Margaret has already shown that it can be successful and she takes it further with Steadfast. Anyone, whatever his or her musical preference, can enjoy this style of singing as she presents it here — it is definitely not a niche album. Surprisingly, it is even great to have playing in the background – something I normally don’t recommend! But I find it relaxing to put the CD on during the day and just let the vocal sounds and the melodies wash over me.
An attentive listen, of course, is in order and there is a rich variety of themes, sentiments and fine music to reward the discerning listener.
Lovely harmonies from Christina Mimmocchi add a new dimension to several of the songs. One of my favourites is a charming ballad by Anne Lister entitled Rosemarie, based on a traditional Flemish song and beautifully adapted. The harmonies add poignancy and sweetness, and I just kept on listening (one of the longer songs) to find out what happened to the heroine – like many of the songs Margaret has chosen, strong womanhood wins out!
If you know Margaret Walters you will be more than satisfied with her latest offering. And if you are not familiar with her work this will be a fine introduction.