Cinder Well: No Summer

No Summer is the new album by Amelia Baker who performs as Cinder Well. The Californian musician spent time on the music circuit with Irish trad-punk group Lankum and as a member of the anarchist folk project Blackbird Raum. She moved to Ireland to study Irish traditional music performance and now lives in the town of Ennis in County Clare.

The album contains both original songs and reworkings of traditional Appalachian songs. There is also an instrumental on which she plays fiddle on an American version of an Irish set tune. For the most part though she performs alone, mainly with guitar, and occasionally with two other musicians on vocals, viola, and violin.

The recordings were all made, mixed, and mastered at Nich Wilbur’s studio in a converted church in Anacortes, Washington. The overall tone is meditative, sombre, and slow. It might come across as dreary to some listeners but that’s the point really as the songs capture a mood of quiet, solitude and isolation that is perhaps all too relevant in these times when a pandemic has forced us to rethink many aspects of life.

The outstanding traditional track here (as well as the best known) is ‘The Cuckoo’. This version of the much recorded and performed song was learned from Kentucky singer Jean Ritchie and is played with guitar rather than the more common banjo accompaniment. Baker’s confident take on it makes us focus more than ever on the lyrics.

On this point she says: “I gravitate towards ballads from a strong female perspective, usually about critiquing men and marriage, and about the struggle and desperation of being a woman in older times. ‘The Cuckoo’ for example, sends the listener a message to be wary of men, to be whole, proud, unscathed.”

Cinder Well (Photo: Jim Ghedi)

There are strong original songs too with some poetic words that resonate. On the title track she begins: “Rain trippin’ down my brittle dry hair / Gazing at the water pooling on the concrete / the steeple makes shadows, dancing with the streetlights / Listening to him sing in a language I don’t understand.”

Elsewhere ‘Our Lady’s’ is a ballad written from the perspective of an abandoned mental asylum discovered not far from the singer’s home. And ‘From Behind the Curtain’ is a fine song to end the album as she sings: “The sky is lavender in Los Angeles, and it is darkening in County Clare.”

With its echoes of quarantine, isolation, and madness No Summer is not exactly a light listen, nor is it intended to be, but it is a rewarding one for those prepared to immerse themselves in the world of Cinder Well.

No Summer will be released on 24th July by Free Dirt Records.

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