Nick Wyke & Becki Driscoll Cold Light
Review by Lee Blackstone
"Who's Crying Now?"
English folk music rolls on with remarkable depth on Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll’s fifth full-length album, Cold Light. The Calling, the duo’s first album from 2006, featured a mix of traditional and contemporary (self-penned) tunes which highlighted Wyke and Driscoll’s complex fiddle playing – sensitively supporting each other’s flights, driving each other on, and drawing out compositions that bore witness to two artists on the rise. Over the years, Wyke and Driscoll’s sound palette has expanded as other instrumentation and guests have been added to their recordings, but the core has always been the interplay between the duo. Cold Light finds the perfect balance between arrangements and the trad-modern mix that Wyke and Driscoll are mining.
"The Knitting Reel"
“The Knitting Reel” starts the album off proper, the two fiddles playing off each other over James Budden’s double bass and Keith Angel’s percussive work. It’s a jaunty start, with a memorable, funky groove. Wyke’s own song “Who’s Crying Now?” follows, and it is a very nice, melancholic piece fleshed out with David Faulkner’s English bagpipes and Ellen Driscoll’s French horn. Wyke’s keening voice and the rhythm of the song put me in mind of upstate New York’s Horse Flies and their combination of the bleak and joyful. “Tie the Petticoat Tighter / The Triumph” brings us back to the duo’s fiddling playing, with a light touch wielded by Budden’s bass work.
Special mention must be made of Driscoll’s lovely voice and her songwriting. “Halo,” which begins with a minimalist piano line, leads to more melancholy and loss: “Halo / Halo falling / Halo falling, from you.” It could be a call of regret in a relationship, but the liner notes indicate that Driscoll had in mind the abuse of power by people in authority. The song works on both levels, if we think of the personal as political, or vice versa. “Winter” is another spare Driscoll composition, and it is remarkable because it sounds as if it could have been a traditional song. The poetry that Driscoll employs is perfect as she describes a lover swept out to sea, and the search along the coast and the incoming waves in the wake of the loss.
“Riddles Wisely Expounded” is a traditional song. I have always been particularly fond of ‘riddle’ songs, with their cryptic propositions and ultimate revelation. Such songs always sound peculiarly ancient to me. Wyke and Driscoll’s version is an absolute masterpiece, and they initially set the lyrics against a rhythm built from short breaths. More breath emerges as the song expands to include the English bagpipes, and trumpet. Add in the sweeping fiddles and Wyke’s lyre, and “Riddles Wisely Expounded” becomes a widescreen powerhouse. The song gives way to more percussive work, and the riddles’ answers are delivered a cappella. I have little doubt that this track will fast become a favorite for fans of the duo, and it should result in much wider and well-deserved exposure for Wyke and Driscoll.
Other treats on Cold Light emerge on the wonderful “La Folia,” with its classical music roots that suddenly transition to a Latin American rhythm. Here, and on the Scandinavian tune “Systerpolska,” listeners can bask in just Wyke and Driscoll’s fiddle playing, their skill and sensitivity on full display.
"The Last Waltz of the Evening" (excerpt)
The album’s longest track is “The Last Waltz of the Evening,” written by Wyke and the tune by Driscoll, which memorializes the Great War and its toll on human relationships. The use of trumpet and flugelhorn adds a stately effect, a ‘Salvation Army band’ sound that is truly beautiful in this memorializing context.
Wyke and Driscoll have produced an album of folk music that mixes wondrous chamber-pop deeply founded on a respect for traditional music and modern songcraft. Cold Light stands as one of the strongest releases of the year. – Lee Blackstone