a beautiful soaring ethereal voice, cites Kate Bush, Clannad and Crowded House among her favourites. The music is primarily acoustic; the duo creating a rich soundscape for their songs with acoustic guitars, dobro, electric slide, mandolin, bouzouki, violin, accordion and bass.
The sound is full, but has a lovely purity about it. Producer Paul Templeman deserves credit for this. The opening Welcome, with its strummed acoustic and slide introduction is a striking number. Cath’s voice is powerful and clear while guest Finn McArdle provides additional colour with some excellent percussion.
From The Lighthouse opens with impressive violin from Catherine while Andy tackles the lead vocals. His voice has a care-worn quality, not dissimilar to Billy Bragg at times, which creates an edge that blends well with Catherine’s purer tone. Left Behind features Catherine to the fore with a terrific climatic chorus. I hear echoes of Karla Bonoff and Richard and Mimi Farina at times, but ultimately the music sounds very original and ... Well, Acoustica!
A lot of time and effort has gone into the writing and arranging of these songs. Andy excels on Amelie, a tender ballad about
finding the courage to strike up a
nice acoustic picking complemented by surprising accordion fills and interesting tempo changes.
How I Am is an appealingly honest take on a burgeoning romance, the female characters vulnerability makes this tale a winner; ‘And I feel it’s time to tell you, I’m as crazy as they come, but I’m sure I was a sweet young girl...’ Elsewhere extra musical texture is provided by Tony Patterson’s ‘magic flute’ on How I Am while The River is a beautiful ballad, very atmospheric. The penultimate Hometown features Andy’s lead vocals on a touching journey into the past; of family and school, where the author dreamed of ‘bowling out the Australians at Headingley.’ Great stuff! The ‘autumn leaves’, depicted at the onset, provide an effective metaphor as Mr Higgins looks back on his lost youth. Glastonbury, one of the first tunes to be recorded, closes the set effectively.
Not many albums list babysitters in the liner notes; Catherine and Andy can feel pleased with their musical offspring. This may not be the kind of music that has you humming immediately. However, there is an intelligence and depth here that requires repeated plays in order to fully appreciate the potential of the material. You should check Acoustica out, you won’t be disappointed. JB
Acoustica - Welcome To... (Organic Soup Records)
Good- looking, good-sounding Newcastle-based duo Andy and Cath Higgins have been performing around the north-east region for almost a decade, only becoming known as Acoustica since their return in 2003 from a self-enforced family-raising break. For Welcome To... Acoustica have chosen to showcase ten self-penned songs (although I’m told that live they mix these with quite a few covers). On this evidence, a blind-tasting of a hitherto unfamiliar act as it were, I’m tempted to say that this was a wise decision, for this CD presents an attractive set of jointly composed songs that are couched in a pleasingly rootsy folk vein, covering their chosen subject-matter with a well-judged lightness of touch. Vocals are shared out roughly equally, and between them Andy and Cath can be heard to play an impressive range of acoustic instruments (guitars, mandolin, bouzouki, violin, dobro, accordion and bass), all rather more than merely competently and in an accessible and nicely unflashy style. The playing skills transfer well to the actual arrangements, which are managed with an enviable degree of good taste and creativity. So, although you notice that there’s a lot going on instrumentally, the arrangements are genuinely song-enhancing, being largely unobtrusive and allowing the lyrics to breathe due to their intrinsic restraint and sensitivity. The already rich acoustic tapestry is felled out just a little further by the flute playing of Tony Patterson (on loan from prog-rock band ReGenesis) and percussion from Finn McArdle on a couple of tracks. Overall, I rather liked the duo’s accomplished approach and their wholly natural and confident feel for their craft, even if two or three of the songs still haven’t made much of an impression on me even after several plays - and despite a nagging familiarity that washes over me on hearing songs like From The Lighthouse in particular; but worry not, in this game c’est la vie!
David Kidman (netrhythms/' Folk Roundabout’)
And the standard of the CD’s ten new songs is unfailingly high – even though I didn’t immediately feel I could grab and isolate a standout track, this was simply because virtually every song makes quite an impact even on first playthrough. The prevailing mode of ItsAcoustica’s music is tuneful acoustic-based contemporary folk-pop, and increasingly I found myself reminded of Pete and Maura Kennedy (in the best possible way), for both Cath and Andy have excellent voices for that kind of material and a keen flair for instrumental colour and flavouring appropriate to that of the message of each song. The opening song, Magnificent Light, engages the ear immediately with its sensuous tex-mex cha-cha vibe, while the tender ballad Your Heart Makes Room employs a gorgeous string arrangement and the cascading fairground-waltzery tempo of the title track is quite charming.
Happily Ever After bounds along in on a driving percussive riff before entering more reflective territory, while Overcoat Days harks back to the early-70s rootsy-folk of Lindisfarne (with a nod to The Band in there too perhaps). A sparse, uke-centric backdrop enables Twisted Path to make its mark in a quirky kind of Roches/Kate-Bush way (love Cath’s harmonies on this track too!); the ringing, chiming guitars and soft string-scape of Close My Eyes invokes CSN and the west-coast sound as much as anything else (and the slide solo is glorious!), and the harmonica-flecked Just One captivates with its mood of Paxtonesque wistful nostalgia. And so it goes. Although serious accomplishment is the order of the day here, Andy and Cath always manage to retain an essential accessibility and listener-friendly lightness of touch that ably complements their songs’ messages and clear-sighted sense of purpose. And the accompanying design, artwork and packaging are all first-class and very attractive indeed. What an achievement all round! (But as a footnote: I’m not sure why they’ve now felt the need to adopt that rather unwieldy extra syllable upfront – a typographer’s nightmare, just like the fad for illogical or inconsistent use of lower-case that dogs so many other acts nowadays – grr!)