It’s always a special moment when a new album by one of your big favorites comes out. When I was a teenager, it was the new Rush or Peter Gabriel or Iron Maiden for me; that was a long, so long ago (I do still love Rush and Gabriel, though) and these days, it’s a whole different set of artists whose “we have a new one coming up!” postings excite me.
When Karine Polwart announced this album, a collaboration with a jazz pianist, I went “well that’s interesting – another branching out, perhaps”. After all, her creative work has in recent years featured many projects with a wide range of approaches and styles, from the stunning audio movie of A Pocket of Wind Resistance to that fab Scottish pop covers album. Now it’s just her and Dave Milligan, voice and piano, with most of the songs readings of other people’s material.
As with many other Covid-19 albums, Still As Your Sleeping comes across as deeply personal and intimate. The song selection is simply marvellous, ranging from Robert Burns to Michael Marra and Kate McGarrigle and she interprets them with such a big heart and presence I simply could not do nothing but sit on my bar stool and listen. Even the two olde war horses, The Parting Glass and Ae Fond Kiss, feel rediscovered and fiercly contemporary, as if written for this moment in history. And the spoken parts in Siccar Point are pure magic, none more than the very last lines of the lyrics.
As brilliant as Karine is, one cannot but praise Dave Milligan’s role enough. He plays here in a spare style, in perfect synergy with the singing, coloring the melody with a deep musicianship that is just… out there. Every note counts, every chord transformation is meaningful and only adds soul to every song.
There are no weak links and, indeed, the album feels like a recital or a song cycle to be performed and listened to at one sitting. I was most touched by the two songs about moving through this troubled world, The Path That Winds Before Us and Travel These Ways; the latter was written for a dementia project and was also performed in the virtual Celtic Connections 2021 but really glows in this recording – I actually shed a few, admitted.
Waste no time and get your copy in your preferred format at https://karinepolwart.bandcamp.com/album/still-as-your-sleeping