Karine Polwart – Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook (Review)

Released August 2nd, “Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook” is a blessing in disguise. As a follow up to her acclaimed 2018 album “Laws Of Motion”, which got Mojo’s Folk Album of the Year, the songwriter has put her own shining light into a collection of songs and has reimagined them as her own. Launched at this year Cambridge Folk Festival, the singer-songwriter will embark on a UK tour in November including London’s Barbican on November 27th. Clearly stating that she’s made the songs her own, the songbook is a beaming example of Karine Polwart simply in her natural habitat. 

Grabbing onto it’s core, “The Whole of the Moon” pursues a warming take on The Waterboys’ highly energetic original. Stripped back to it’s simple folk structure, there’s a new world being created within this one. Slow and steady, it’s dream-like nature is a comforting start to what seems to be an imaginative album. Now there’s a whole lot of originality on this album, but the way that Karine has took “From Rags to Riches” and made it completely her own is breathtaking. Keeping a strong pulse throughout the number, the celtic folk arrangement travels us to a blissful high. Holding onto the meaning of ‘from rags to riches’, it feels like the poor have simply become rich from the purity of this track.

Dignity” stands the test of time with it’s soft, acoustic approach. A completely different journey then the original, the structure behind this number is as light as a feather. Fragile but with a firm head of it’s shoulders, the respectful motivation behind the song uplifts spirits and Karine’s vocals flourish the air with great ease. Beginning with an old recording of her grandfather singing an irish traditional song, “Since Yesterday” is a whole other level of personal. The original fits within the cheesy part of the 80’s and contains the decade of writing about teen love. Karine’s direction for the track is a lot different. More head towards how time moves so fast, her take experiences loss and remembrance. Stating that time can change anything, it’s true, because she’s simply put her own twist on the classic. 

Written by the late Scott Hutchinson and originally recorded by Frightened Rabbit, “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” features the same elements as the originally. Both pouring with purity and a beautiful musicianship, Karine’s arrangement features a perfect tribute to Scott. Coated with a blanket of beauty, the acoustic number fits perfectly on this ever growing track list of masterpieces. “Chance” compliments a stripped back version of the Big Country’s classic. Luscious harmonies and arranged to an electric piano, the percussive structure would be lost without Karine’s “ha ha ha” backing. As a whole, it feels slightly lost within a sea of hope, there’s a lot of potential with it, but it lacks in a bit of momentum.

Originally arranged as an electro-pop number, “The Mother We Share” still lies into it’s roots but there’s a more of a folk based feel to it now. Contrasting between the melancholic vibe of the album, this track is a pure hit. Lively and complimenting Karine’s upbeat nature, this sure is one of the stand out tracks on the LP. Stepping back to the simplicity of the album, this folk orientated track takes the John Martyn blues number but adds an effective drone. “Don’t Want To Know” feels right in today’s day and age. So much is happening all over the world and this cry for help is sure to make you stop and think. A perfect adaption of a true historical song. 

Whatever’s Written In Your Heart” glues itself to the original, but Karine’s version actually has a lot more feeling to the original. There’s layers of soul in this style that the song always lacked in. A beautiful example of Karine simply at her best. Taking us to the modern age, “Machines” feels right at home. Comforting and one of the best covers on the album, the Biffy Clyro original could well be a strong track in Karine’s repetoire too. A perfect ode to another Scottish heroic band.

Women Of The World” actually got released ahead of International Women’s Day a few months back. A gentle wave goodbye, this rounds off the truly breathtaking album like a family friend simply hugging to say farewell. Leaving me slightly upset that it’s finished, the presence this album can bring to anyone will leave you with chills. Crafted wonderfully, this has got to be a stand out piece of work in Karine’s discography. 

Score: 7/10

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