Caught by the River

Dream Life – Mary Epworth

30th June 2012

Mary Epworth’s new album reviewed by Tom Doyle.

In this age where the music video has been redefined by its shrunken physical dimensions (unless you’re one of the few who always hits “full screen”) and by record company budgets shrivelled beyond recognition, imagination is king. As such, the simple, yet entirely effective clip for Mary Epworth’s Long Gone, the second single pulled from her wholly evocative debut record, Dream Life, couldn’t be more perfectly pitched.

In a field of gently-blown rapeseed, the singer dreamily emotes in a watercolour scene reminiscent of the 1970s Flake ad considered so suggestive as to merit it being banned. Kaleidoscopic effects fade in and out, before mushrooming coloured smoke begins to inexplicably billow behind Epworth, temporarily clouding her. By the end, video effects are mirroring the smoke into Rorschach shapes.

Even with the sound muted, this clip would tell you all you need to know about Epworth’s music: it’s evocative of the 1970s, it’s softly psychedelic, yet somehow open to the otherworldly. Unmute and Long Gone floats on a bed of hushed brass, Epworth’s perfectly-enunciated English tones coloured by phasing, before sailing into a stirring, ‘70s Spector-ish (think All Things Must Pass) chorus of loss and longing.

If this is consciously bucolic stuff, then Epworth is no stranger to the hypnotic power of nature – see the way she becomes transfixed by the titular creature of Black Doe – and you can imagine her perhaps plucking a handful of psilocybins during her rustic rambles. Accompanied again by a striking video, in which the singer wanders like a ghostly Victorian governess through a country graveyard, in Black Doe her voice wafts detached and spectre-like over walls of distortion and Mooning drum rolls.

The East Anglian Epworth has been a long time in the self-making – veteran of forgotten ‘90s indie troupes, subsequently striving to carve out a reputation distinct from that of her producer brother Paul. If her 2008 debut single The Saddle Song was slightly ho-hum wyrd folk, it did at least conjure up an image of Sandy Denny fronting a twisted version of Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite, underlining her apartness. Four years in gestation, then, with the passing of time and the absorbing of her varied influences (there are echoes here of everything from Pacific Ocean Blue to Aphrodite’s Child), in Dream Life, she has found her voice.

In many ways, though, the towering qualities of Long Gone and Black Doe belie the more subdued remainder of the album: Heal This Dirty Soul is as sparse and sedate as Lennon’s God (and manages to rhyme Zabriskie with “kissed me”); the yearningly psychedelic Those Nights finds the singer shadowed by a chorus of backwards-voiced, whispering, witchy spirits. The latter sonic trick is apt, then – in the currently overcrowded marketplace of folk-leaning female singers, Mary Epworth occupies entirely her own space.

Dream Life is out now on Hand Of Glory. Available from the Caught by the River shop, priced £10.