LCM ALBUM OF THE WEEK
THE LONGING KIND - MAZ O'CONNOR
Release Date: 26th February, 2016
Genre: Folk, Acoustic, Singer-Songwriter
Record Company: Restless Head
One of the most inventive, gifted & talented young singer-songwriters in UK Folk is Cumbrian born, London based multi-instrumentalist Maz O'Connor. We have been a big fan of Maz's music for quite a while now, so we were very excited to review her third studio album 'The Longing Kind' and attend the album launch gig at St. Pancras Old Church back in February. The album is a perfect and much more personal follow up to 'This Willowed Light', with the same hallmark of quality and a new sense of maturity and life experience. Maz is a master songwriter and much of the beauty of the album is in her lyric writing and arrangements, coupled to her already great pure vocal and musicianship.
Her new album 'The Longing Kind' explores the tensions and conflicts of a young woman living in London, yearning for an undefined elsewhere. Her songs turn intimate and true tales into poignant examinations of our relationship to others, to home and the notion of identity. It is her first album of entirely original material, having temporarily put aside the traditional ballads that featured on her acclaimed previous album This Willowed Light. These songs are unflinchingly personal and resolutely youthful. A crafted selection of 12 self-penned originals and 1 co-write with Jim Moray who played, produced, recorded and mixed the album at FLW in Bristol.
“I’m not going to pretend not to be young,” Maz explains. “For this album I didn’t want to hide behind historical disasters and mythological beasts at the expense of my own experience.” Ordered like a three-act play, the album begins with songs that capture those moments of uncertainty, confusion and displacement that follow being shoved into the world from the comfort of education and family. As well as “trying to use love as a shortcut to home, a shortcut to identity which obviously doesn’t work.”
The songs in the second act are imagined stories based on the subjects of paintings (Millais’ 'Ophelia', Delaroche’s 'Lady Jane Grey' and other immortalised tragic heroines) and how their identities have been fixed by their artists. “I liked the idea of the paintings having a voice to say, ‘I could have been so many other things but you had control over me as the artist.’ That’s also true of the songs I write about people in my own life. If I write about someone I’ve controlled the narrative; I’ve fixed them in a song.”
In the final section the record returns to reality, but in responding to the themes of the previous songs there’s a newfound clarity, a redefined sense of self and of arriving home. “I’ve been trying to figure out the difference between mistakes and regrets; to enjoy being young without being stupid.”
Maz is joined by a host of excellent musicians on the album including Beth Porter (Cello), Matt Downer (Double Bass), Nick Malcolm (Trumpet), Chris Hillman (Pedal Steel) and Suzi Gage (Harmony vocals). Maz was also nominated for the Horizon Award ("Best Newcomer") in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (2015). The record is released on her own label Restless Head and paid for by a grant from the BBC Performing Arts Fund.
The album begins with a short instrumental 'Intro' which segways neatly into the heartfelt, tender and reflective title track 'The Longing Kind'. I love Maz's finger-picking acoustic guitar and the subtle floating and ethereal pedal steel from Chris Hillman underpinning the song. "Words words words, how you do me wrong. Can't bring him home when he's so long gone. Now I'm telling empty tales, I'm singing empty songs. Words words words, you do me wrong......I long for silence, now I long for night. I long for one long gone from my sight. Long for the rain to cleanse his mind and mine. Lord knows, I've been the longing kind"
Making a worthy addition is another deeply thoughtful song 'A Winter's Blues' previously released as a mini three-track EP with 'London Lights' and 'Nightcap' from 'This Willowed Light' in October 2014. "I told him, it's a father's kind word, A mother's kind touch. It's the sound of a city asking too much, Oh it's only a winter's blues....It's the rains coming down, it's him never coming round, It's the sound of my darling letting me down. Oh it's only a winter's blues". We love the lyric "Oh that friend of mine he picked me up off the floor, He said 'hey little sparrow what are you crying for? You shouldn't fly so high if you can't take a fall'
In 'Crook Of His Arm', one of the highlights of the album, Maz refers back to the time when as a baby she was so small (just the length of her father's forearm), so she could fit in the crook of his arm...a place of safety and security. Maz honestly reflects on her life experiances since. "I left a city that did not care for me. I long to feel my feet on familiar fields of green. But now every leaf on every tree has grown itself anew. And two hundred days have cleared away any trace of you.....He could not keep me from the ways of this world. He could not keep me from sharpened tongues and cruel words. And how you don't get rich by playing nice. And how you have yourself to blame if you are made the fool twice". We love the interplay and arrangement between double bass, cello, pedal steel and percussion, with Maz's pure vocal soaring above it.
'Mother Make My Bed' is an uptempo, fast-strummed arrangement with the introduction of Nick Malcolm’s multi-tracked trumpet. One phase echo's through the song which one of Maz's inspiration for writing it 'When you're young and when you're poor
The only thing you want is more'. The song slowly builds into a great full chorus which reminds us The Keston Cobblers Club before dissolving slowly into soft-focus.
The album moves firmly into traditional folk-rock territory with the powerful 'Greenwood Side'. A song which showcases Maz's range, emotive depth and power. A great electric guitar solo from Jim.
Another firm favourite is the very tender and beautifully written 'Emma', "the girl inside the frame...the girl inside the paint". It has a such a wonderful piano and cello arrangement "Wasn't it you who painted me in blue? Landscapes in your eyes, high as the skies and painting what the night told you to.......Too crude you said to paint me all in red. A momentary muse to be moved to be used and left unmade in the bed"
'Jane Grey' takes a first-person look at the story of the 16th century noblewoman Lady Jane Grey, who found herself briefly, for just nine days, Queen of England. She was great-granddaughter of Henry VII. Unfortunately for Lady Jane, The Privy Council were not very happy about this and they declared Mary I the rightful queen instead. Lady Jane was convicted of high treason in November 1553, which carried a sentence of death, although her life was initially spared. Wyatt's rebellion of January and February 1554 against Queen Mary I's plans to marry Philip of Spain led to the execution of both Lady Jane and her husband. She was only sixteen. Lady Jane Grey had an excellent humanist education and a reputation as one of the most learned young women of her day. A committed Protestant, she was posthumously regarded as not only a political victim but also a martyr. The clever cello arrangement provides an appropriate melancholy feel.
Maz's next subject is 'Billy Walters', a fellow musician and busker. Written perhaps from the viewpoint of another travelling troubadour with hopes and dreams. "There stands Billy a dream in his eye, One leg short and glass drunk dry. He smells like sea shells sleeps under the sky and he'll play that tune til the day he dies."
If you like Maz at her very intimate and purest, just finger-picked acoustic guitar and simple natural vocal without reverb, the tender love song 'Coming Back Around' would be a perfect example of her art. Lovely.
The tempo raises in 'A Quiet Word', a very popular live sing-a-long. "But I thought I heard a quiet word, falling with the rain.....Won't you stay with me? Forsake the sea, for I won't cast you away"
Another sublimely written song is the floating 'A Rose' "They say love is a flower. The say love is a rose. They say love comes easy. Easy as it goes....I put my hard-kept secrets into lovers' hard-won hands. I made my home in castles, sitting on slow sinking sands".
The album ends with the up-tempo and very catchy 'When The Whiskey Runs Dry'. "It's been a long long time since I walked these streets at night. Helped home by these small town lights. Suddenly I had to see my grandfather's home. And tell the land he used to walk of all the troubles I've known. Of how love's not a game anymore and my love's not the same anymore. Since he didn't know what I was loving him for.....He said 'spend your love on another young man. One who knows what he is and will do what he can. I still think of him when the whisky runs dry....If you see him won't you tell him it's all right."
We will leave you with the last word and thank you from Maz written in album sleeve notes "All the promoters and venues tirelessly supporting live music. And to you for listening, coming to gigs and making it possible for me to make music. Maz x"