Caught by the River


13th October 2017

(Brawl Records, out 20 October)

Review by Hannah Peel

The day I heard Laura Cannell’s new album, the summer was edging towards the August bank holiday. I was about to make my yearly return trip to the west coast of Donegal in Ireland and had left the house for the airport with Cannell’s wild strings in my heart and an ominous fable in my mind. It was all soon lost amidst the bustle of trains and swarms of people at the airport. At arrival into Belfast, my father picked me up and we made a start on our three-hour evening drive, the sun slowly disappearing from our eyes mixed with the usual spot of rain.

We never reached Donegal that night. Caught within a raging flash flood going over the high Glenshane A6 pass, water had suddenly started to carve this main route, causing parts to collapse. Cars were afloat. The road closed in front of us, but still determined to get to our destination, we headed upwards. To go over the top of the mountain – where maybe the strong current of water we were experiencing at the bottom would be weaker – was our plan. As we went higher into the atmosphere, though, it became worse. We had already navigated some deep pools on the roads, but as sheet-white lightening began, the roads became fast-moving rivers, carrying rocks, debris and gallons of mud. It was too late to turn back. The wild pass was bowing under the weather. Horses were galloping in the fields and cows and sheep huddled in corners. The thick ‘Blackwater’ gods conjured by Cannell’s playing earlier that day were bending my mind as the dark night encroached. We paused at different crossroads, unsure of which way to turn, stopping with other drivers to fearfully ask if the path ahead was clear. “It’s passable”, they would reply. Water was streaming out between garden fences like furious mini waterfalls. It was like we were in a movie and Cannell’s new album had induced this journey. Recorded live in a ruined church on a fast-eroding cliff, the fit of the music was too perfect to be true. As we navigated broken pipes pulled into the road by the now viscous flood, her music came to life. ‘Blacksmith’ was crafting our sharp turns, playing a game with us, latching onto our deepest terrors like hunted beasts. The car headlights wavered against the water, casting demon-like shadows and tricking our minds into questioning if we would ever reach the other side. I gradually began to feel as though we were being slowly submerged ‘Under Deep Leaves’, until a break in the rain revealed city lights below – as if ‘Nordhalla’ was calling.

As a violinist, I know the treacherous feat that lies ahead by choosing to make an album solely for that instrument. Its scratchiness and sonorous frequencies can be testing and it takes strength and endurance to see the journey to the end. Just like my journey that night in Ireland, the hunter and the hunted on this album are fused for survival. Cannell’s craft, emotionally seizing you for a trip, is a witch-like weather vane. You can almost hear the elements ripping around her violin in guttural gasps as I did on that dark night. Twisting amongst the ruins in which Cannell stands, her emotions are captured. The rawness lures you onto a dark and brooding improvised journey, whipping up base emotions and stretching you over her horsehair bow before plunging you down the cliffs into the wild sea below, to await eventual rescue.


HUNTER HUNTRESS HAWKER is released by Brawl on 20 October. Buy or listen here.

Hannah Peel’s latest record, the magnficent Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia is out now. Read our review here.

Hannah Peel on Caught by the River/on Twitter