In the final part of Krystof Kieslowski’s Three colours trilogy, Red, there is a dazzling opening sequence in which the camera follows red cables from the starting point of a phone call made in Geneva through switches and under the sea to England, only for the call to be rebuffed at the last by the flashing red light of a busy telephone. It’s imagery that ‘The wires’ by Rachael Dadd from her new album The world outside is in a cupboard brings to mind. Wires are also what puppeteers use to manipulate their creations – another recurring theme of Kieslowski’s films – but here I think we’re talking about wires and distance, like the ‘Lines running north’ that the young Del Amitri sang about. ‘The wires’ has all the elements that go to make up the best of Rachael Dadd’s songs – the trueness of the singing voice, the rising, reaching melody and harmonics, the gentle dynamics which occasionally engulf you, and unsparing personal observation. In its execution, though, this song alone establishes a connection to the way Minnesotan trio Low make their music – there is that same purity of purpose.
Listening to ‘The wires’ I can’t help thinking of Red; listening to the rest of The world outside…, I can’t help thinking of a record called Blue, a record I admire more than like, for all the listening I’ve given it. But The world outside… is a warmer kind of self-portrait than Joni Mitchell’s, though it travels from January blues to the autumnal end of a day’s work, from fear and bravery to a state of golden-maned happiness. The last is a token of an engagement with the natural world that belies the album’s title, for throughout, there’s a weight of animal threatening to burst out of the cupboard, or into the world. Not unconnected with this, there are moments – ‘And when I cannot dream’ is one – where The world outside… comes close to the mellifluous, pain-tinged joy that Tim Buckley perfected on Blue afternoon.
But Rachael Dadd is obviously not in thrall to the blues of Tim or Joni any more than she could be to the red of Kieslowski. Though her music occasionally tips its hat to tradition, hers is folk music which is not mired in the past. It has the quality of, if not timelessness, then the closest any of us mortals can come to that, either as listeners or music-makers. She shows no sign of the quirkiness which undoes some who do things the Fence Records way. The world outside… may not be pop in its immediacy, but it is immediately affecting. Like her recordings with Kate Stables and Virpi Kettu as Whalebone Polly, it doesn’t necessarily imprint itself on first listen, but instead floats and flies free. Listening brings its rewards. Songs like ‘Caught in the weight’, ‘Hawk for a heart’ and ‘The party’ share unassuming beginnings, but where they travel melodically and harmonically remains surprising. Her music retains the simple acoustic warmth of previous releases, though added now are loops and rumbles of piano, while ‘Ships’ has a metronomic beat and ‘Bold bear’ an electric guitar; but at root there is a familiar and welcome sense of space. To my ears Rachael Dadd is more Leaf than Fence, with a musical sensibility as fine-tuned and essence-seeking as Colleen, although the latter is a composer of quite distinct minimalist instrumental pieces. There is even a resemblance between the artwork for Everyone alive wants answers and The world outside is in a cupboard.
Rachael Dadd never pretends to be something she isn’t. There is no bar code on this CD. In as far as it’s possible for it to be so, this is music unaffected by the commercial processing of the music business. You can’t get The world outside… on Amazon (instead you need to go here, from where it’s but a short hop to the Hand – Rachael in combination with kora wiz Wig Smith – whose excellent Berries from the rubble EP is also well worth hearing). That’s alternately frustrating and partly why the music of Rachael Dadd appeals as much as it does. I hope her audience continues to grow, slowly but surely.