Album Review / Salt House: Huam

Be very quiet and sit you down. No rush. Because there are three people with some acoustic instruments, mostly stringed ones, who have made music for you. It’s the most human and gentle music you could imagine, not tied to any particular place or time, with such watercolour nuances, you may lose much of it if you don’t just… you know, calm down and let the noise inside and outside you subside. Okay?

If I seem arrogant in telling you what to do, I speak from experience. Because the first time I pressed play on Huam, I was at home but doing stuff and minding whatever it was I was minding. The music blended into the general undertow hum of a suburban home and I almost forgot about it.

Until maybe about a week ago I realized I had no real memory trace of it and felt pretty stupid. So, I says to myself, pause, get the headphones and *listen* . And lo, everything came clear and alive.

As I immersed myself in the music, I mused on how it’s a tiny miracle that any folk music, Celtic or otherwise, survives in this greedy and impatient and buzzing digital world and even thrives here and there. I might write a few thoughts on that theme a bit later, but for now, it’s all about Salt House and their latest creation.

Huam, on its every track, incarnates a principle, not the old “less is more” but “strength in the essence”. If you’re familiar with Salt House already, you know the intimacy and closeness of their music. Those qualities are here, of course, but on this album, all tunes and their arrangements positively glow with inner light. There is absolutely nothing unecessary anywhere; all of the tracks come with just the playing and the singing required to convey the essence of the music and the words to you, dear reader/listener, as directly as possible.

And that means it’s you who have to come to this music to have it open to you. Nothing difficult to it; just slow down and take some time. And that’s all. What you get in return is Lauren MacColl, Ewan MacPherson and Jenny Sturgeon bringing you music and words both old and new, performed with quiet intensity and richness of detail. It’s music to remind you how every note really counts – and people who can make each note count are rare jewels and this is an album of much beauty.

Let me point out that even if discreet in its approach, Huam is rarely ascetic and never barren. Sometimes, nay, often, there’s actually more than initially meets the ear; it’s done in a way that always serves the song and nothing but the song. Fire Light grows and deepens when you’re not looking (and at 2:35 comes up with a new melody that somehow reminds me of late period XTC); the existentially charged The Disquiet fits the beautiful melody and lyrics to simple fiddle lines and slowly pulsing bass notes to create something way more than its parts; The Same Land (whose lyrics get an extra punch from out current global situation) is built on a very sparse harmonium-like drone and a few notes from electric guitar and bass and nothing much more – and it just glows.

And then there’s the finale, Union of Crows, my favorite on Huam. It’s one of those songs where words and music meet effortlessly like two streams joining and forming a river. The faint air of a young Joni Mitchell in this song is nothing but on bonus in my books. And, like all of Huam, it’s performed with unassuming confidence, the Zen of folk music.

Of course, in music like this, production and engineering are critical. Any artifice or any attempt at self-consciousness would be fatal. Producer Andy Bell handles this side of things perfectly: the soundscape is clear, warm and never artificial.

Slow down, maybe look outside and notice the quality of light. Disconnect from all the noise. Let the music in.

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