An utterly timeless collection of vocal improv takes its first bow on vinyl, as Laura Cannell & Polly Wright’s debut tribute to the landscape, history and people inspired by a 19th-century book of Norfolk customs and ballads graces our Editions imprint. It’s a wondrous, humbling, and haunting album bridging folk and medieval styles with a plaintive magick that only appears intensified on record - a huge RIYL Hildegaard von Bingen, Arc Light Edition’ Psalm singer recordings, Julianna Barwick.
Remarkably conceived, recorded and released in 2019 - the same year they first met - ‘Sing as the Crow Flies’ is a super-natural meeting of mutual souls seeking to limn a sort of deep topographical reading of their home turf in a series of haunting, near-wordless hymns. Shockingly effortless in execution and spine-freezing in effect, the nine songs are Laura & Polly’s beautifully concerted effort to rectify the lack of historical female voices in text or music hailing from the Norfolk/Suffolk borders where they live and create. With little to go on, they decided to add their joint female voices and experiences to the rural sound ecology and culture of East Anglia, and created something un-arguably unique in the process.
Drawing on a shared formative background in classical music (and specialities in medieval composition), Cannell & Wright nod to the sort of heterophonic improvisation found in Psalms from the Isles of Lewis (as heard on those amazing Arc Light Editions volumes), as well as Hildegaard Von Bingen inspired call-and-response styles, while taking select words from the 18th C. text ‘Norfolk Garland, A Collection of the Superstitious Beliefs and Practices, Proverbs, Curious Customs, Ballads and Songs, of the People of Norfolk’ to provide structural underpinnings. But what happens in between is just a spellbinding sort of magick, using Raveningham Church as a sounding chamber for their finely controlled but naturally keening and graceful, unhurried expressions of tradition and folklore.
A forlorn, late decade masterwork in a field of its own, ‘Sing As The Crow Flies’ is an unusually life-affirming record that channels centuries, near a millennia, of uncanny expression into its wordless hymns to the land. Perhaps it’s fair to say that folk were emoting very similar feelings during the OG pandemics of yore.