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Elle Osborne
If You See A Rook On Its Own, It's A Crow

artist release
Review by Chris Nickson

When singer-songwriter Elle Osborne released her debut 20 years ago, apparently I called her an artist to watch. In the two decades since then, I'd obviously looked away, not aware of her until this landed on the digital mat, with a reminder of what I'd said two decades before.

It seems that younger me was a astute judge of talent. Osborne has matured into someone with a highly individual way of looking at everything around her and presenting herself and her music with the air someone not quite of this world. What initially seems artless both her singing and writing is actually an art form in itself. Take the opening track, "Birds Of The British Isles" (which also contains the album title - video below). It's a little jarring in its sparseness. Her voice is fragile, constantly on the anarchic edge of falling out of tune, and with a disconcerting warble. Yet it works. Put the pieces together, and it draws you in. She can write an unusual, catchy song, with the song title making for a real earworm of a refrain, while the electric guitar takes gentle tentative wing on its solo.

Listen

"Comedy And Tragedy," led by Osborne's fiddle, appears like a song broadcast from a cabaret in another dimension, the accordion pushing the waltz as the music dances in eccentric fashion around the floor, before slowly drifting away into the wordless, lingering singalong that's reminiscent of nothing so much as Mary Hopkins's venerable "Those Were The Days."

Listen

The production gives Osborne plenty of space, but that's what works best for her. She seems like a coastal person, revelling in plenty of air and distant water. And the music? Well, it might be 21st century folk or possibly (to try and be creative here) even post-folk. Make up your own definition. Yet once you dive through the initial, surface simplicity, there's a world of complexity and turbulence underneath, perhaps best exemplified by the "The Taming Of The Shrewd" where Alice Emerson's electric guitar offers the perfect sonic counterpoint for Osborne's voice, then cutting back to "The Selkie," which takes on the mythical weight of centuries, swimming among delicate electric tracery.

Listen

It all ends with just Osborne's violin and the mournful "The Sighs Of Whales," with more of that sense of sea and space. She is and I don't use the term lightly a unique artist, someone with her own worldview that propels her art, much like, say, Ivor Cutler or Robert Wyatt. But there were no boundaries of style in their recordings, either. Twenty years ago she was someone to watch. Now, Elle Osborne has very much arrived. - Chris Nickson

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