Midnight Skyracer (from the album Shadows on the Moon available on Island Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
With the excellent quintet that is Midnight Skyracer, we have something of a double-first. An all-female bluegrass band is rare enough. To have been signed by a major record label, even more so. That the renowned Island Records have picked them up speaks volumes, both as to the quality of the band itself, and to the growing market for authentic roots-based music beyond the confines of the auto-tuned production booth. All five members of this Anglo-Irish collaboration contribute vocal harmonies as well as instrumentation. Charlotte Carrivick provides guitar; Laura Carrivick, fiddle and dobro; Eleanor Wilkie, bass, Tabitha Benedict, banjo and Leanne Thorose, mandolin. The group have been playing together since 2017. Shadows on the Moon is their second album.
Just a few seconds into opener “Average Faces” and it becomes obvious why Midnight Skyracer have enjoyed so much success. This is a tight, tight, outfit, possessed of the sort of musicianship which makes ensemble playing seem easy. Their music is radio-friendly, upbeat and swinging, featuring the mix of roots and pop which has served artists such as The Corrs and Shania Twain so well. Midnight Skyracer, however, are definitely more Roots than Pop. “Brand New Start” could fit easily into any album by The Band, with its rolling swagger and cheeky twang. The group's arrangements are fresh and fun, not overloading the mix and equally effective on the vocal and instrumental passages. The quintet fuse so nicely and organically, that the album warrants repeated listens in order to focus on each player.
A strong Western-country flavour inhabits this set. Laura Carrivick's fiddle swoops and saws, gracefully intertwining around Wilkie's melodic bass, which serves as a solid foundation. As a banjo-player myself, Benedict's picking is a particular delight. Deft and dextrous, without ever sounding showy, her restrained runs and riffs are beautiful to hear. Although Shadows on the Moon largely stays on the sunny side of the street, there's plenty of grit on tr acks such as “Crying Wolf,” which forces the pace with brash lyrics and incendiary playing. This song also showcases Charlotte Carrivick's wonderful guitar. Nimble, cultured and possessed of enough bite to rattle a rattle-snake, she can drive a song like John Lennon and solos with heart, humour and precision.
The jazzy kitsch that is “No Point Knockin'” is played without cynicism and is all the better for it. This could be a top-ten Billboard hit from the 1940s. The harmonies are first class, the vocal delivery full of charm. Indeed, this cut demonstrates the diversity of the group's sound, which will surely serve them well. From there, the band launch headlong into Bill Monroe territory, with the racing bluegrass of “Queen of Broken Hearts.” Taken at breathless speed, this riot of a song is a standout amongst stiff competition. The playing is hot enough to melt your stereo. Even at this tempo, the vocals are delivered smoothly and effectively. On “Steaming Buzzard” we're treated to an extended passage of mandolin and banjo, which dance around each other in beguiling fashion, before the rest of the players kick in.
Overall, Shadows on the Moon serves up a surprising blend of the old and the new. It is clear that the band's collective heart lies in the early twentieth century. In revisiting and celebrating this music, they have not sought to apply any modern spin or contemporary trends. Rather, the freshness and originality stems from the player's own authentic experiences and natural inclinations, as citizens of the modern era, whose ears instinctively pick up and process on the multitude of music which surrounds us. This is a fine album, deserved of attention, and a welcome signpost for things to come. (by Chris Wheatley)
Listen and buy Midnight Skyracer from AMAZON
For more information, please visit the Midnight Skyracer website