Burning Salt at the Magic LanternReview
What an interesting & subtle band Burning Salt are. No wonder they are getting a lot of attention, though like me, much of those recognising their talent find them hard to pin down stylistically. They were short listed for the 2019 Folking magazine "Rising Star" award, though I find it hard to think of them as a folk act. Even they don't self identify as such. Hannah Hull, the writer, singer, guitarist & keyboard player in the band, conceded to me that some aspects of some of their earlier material were possibly just about "alt folk". I overheard audience members with the same conundrum talking & I agree that an expressed Laurie Anderson parallel was interesting: references on their website to P J Harvey Nick Cave & Tom Waits are also helpful pointers, but only for part of the journey as Burning Salt really do possess an most individual sound.
The band, whose name evokes "an act of expulsion, purification or protection" epitomise idiosyncrasy in their approach. That said, I think that it is vitally important to make it clear that I enjoyed it tremendously, as did everyone in the audience, almost all of whom seemed to have questions for the musicians at the end. They are raw, passionate & honest, but far from alienating.
Hannah has a most interesting, unusual & compelling vocal style. She tends to sing slowly, and I have never heard anyone enunciate each sung syllable as she does. Her rich voice is pitched low & I am really grateful to local viola player Katrin Gilbert (of Mechanicals Band fame) for describing it as "like a ‘cello". Her guitar playing, gently finger picked on a Spanish guitar sounds as if it's been beamed in from Elizabethan days. On keyboards, her playing as is enriched by space for reflection as her singing & guitar playing: "spectral" springs to mind.
Electric guitar player Bobby Williams played a Fender Jaguar throughout the set, adding all sorts of textures as needed, most simply adding to the slipperiness of pinning down descriptions of what I was listening to. Often reverb heavy, often with deployment of vibrato, he came across as a classic surf player. Other times he seemed to channel Ry Cooder to excellent effect & at others he coaxed yet more spectral sounds out with just slides to complement Hannah.
The final member present (drummer Daisy Palmer plays on the album but was not in the lineup at the Magic Lantern ) was double bass player John Parker whom I have already reviewed this year as part of the Mechanicals Band and half of Ward & Parker (who are more obviously "folk") You may remember him as half of Nizlopi also. What can one say of the man Hannah refers to as the "inimitable John Parker"? One of the most dynamic of rhythmic bass players, John also constantly offers melody to the bands he plays with: frequently switching between the two like he switches from bow to plucking. Tonight, the interplay between his playing and that of Bobby & Hannah frequently produced three lines of melody interlacing.
The set was based on their two record releases to date: last August's "Dirt" EP and the forthcoming album ‘Automatic Lullaby' which will be launched on 24th May at The Hermon Chapel in Oswestry. The night also acted as a form of launch itself as it was the day on which new single "Honey"/"Superstitious Woman" was released.
The EP has its roots in Hannah's experiences as a (visual) artist working in the now demolished Holloway Prison and the songs incorporate direct transcriptions from the women incarcerated there or working there. The lyrics are therefore at turns harrowing, stark, mournful & defiant & fit really well with the musical settings.
Generally, melancholia informs Burning Salt's music (which contrasts vividly with the between songs repartee and Hannah, whose singing face is wholly reflective of the lyrics she is singing, yet has a broad smile when not singing) with the very striking exception of "Superstitious Woman" which closed the first set & took me by surprise with its punk ferocity. It's the one you could dance to.
Burning Salt are what might be described as a cult band: once discovered you'll love them & respect them, but getting to know their work is less likely to be easy as they don't fit into any of the neat boxes the mainstream media feel comfortable assigning people to. I hope you'll take a voyage of discovery to them using this review as an embarkation point.
The "Dirt" EP was created during Hannah's residency at Islington Museum as part of the 'Echoes of Holloway Prison' project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Further information: www.echoesofhollowayprison.com
The band played the EP live at Brixton Prison earlier this week.