By Dennis Cook
There's something to be said for fully embracing one's pastoral freakiness. If the handcrafted moccasin fits, well, you should wear it, ideally with flowers in your hair. Margie Wienk, the driving force behind new folk explorers Fern Knight, is an artist out of time. Her music is what one expects to hear wafting from a forest or murmuring in the fog of a new morning. Wienk's gentle, fully formed creations breathe with animal magic - sinewy, alive, and two steps removed from the modern hubbub around us.
Three years on from 2003's cheerfully titled, Seven Years of Severed Limbs, Fern Knight is brighter, less inclined to remain on a dark road than they were on their debut. Simple wonder seems the driving force behind Music For Witches and Alchemists, a title so painfully earnest in its paganism it seems lifted from a Monty Python sketch. Get past that initial impression and you'll discover a really pleasant song cycle full of crows, snakes, and warbled lullabies.
Recorded by Espers leader Greg Weeks (who also contributes "vox & acid leads"), MFWA is a fuller affair than Severed Limbs. Each piece flows naturally to the next and yet feels like its own world while you're drifting inside it. Beyond the forthright folkiness, there's Arabic accents and something like the electric hum of Brightblack Morning Light. Also lending their talents are accordionist Alec K. Redfearn (The Eyesores), harpist Jesse Sparhawk (Espers), and fab percussionist Otto Hauser (Devendra Banhart, Vetiver). Synth operator Orion Rigel Dommisse is either a grand pseudonym or one of the best rock names in ages. Each has some inspired moments – particularly Redfearn whose accordion drifts from Indian drone to luxurious tango machine - but it's Wienk's cello, guitar, and especially her warm, round voice – a worthy heir to the celestial, medieval feel of Maddy Prior and June Tabor – that stands out. This is her show and the others serve as empathetic assistant bards.
It's really easy to do this kind of music wrong. Too often modern attempts at far-reaching, acoustic-rooted music sounds like a slight variation on Pentangle or Steeleye Span. Fern Knight's latest has the wonderful otherness of vintage recordings but twists things into knots of their own design.
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