Folkstock’s third showcase album: Review by Gareth Calway

Kelly Oliver - the real deal
Kelly Oliver - the real deal
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Downtown (Folkstock) Various Artists FSR22

Downtown is Folkstock’s third showcase album. The award-winning indie folk-roots-acoustic label, run by a mother and daughter team, notes that only one in five of songs registered with PRS for music are by women. eight of Downtown’s ten songs are female-written and performed.

Norwich’s award-winning Marina Florance and Cambridge’s Zoe Wren are indisputably the voices of female experience. Music student Zoe already sounds like a woman of the world.

Coming late to singer-songwriting, Marina (like Zoe) made a stir at Cambridge Folk Festival in 2014. On ‘Little Black Cloud’– released especially for this compilation – she favours matured-and-measured, lived-and-learned ‘low velvet tones’ over the excited breathy gulp of some contemporary girl-folk.

Russian-born and cosmopolitan, haunted by memories of Stalin, Daria Kulesh’s sub-operatic voice is haunting, raw, exotic yet precise, the innocence of the child darkened by the shocks of a woman’s experience.

Minnie Birch, admired and employed by Joan Armatrading as support, has a deceptively ‘girly’ voice – complete with occasional tremor – delivering bold lyrics. The sunshine-smiling dolly who turns out to be Dolly Parton.

Like the Corrs, Radio 2 and 6 act Kelly Oliver, who brand-leads the album with its upbeat single ‘Miles to Tralee’ (released Nov 20) is the real deal.

Her folk class and nods to Irish tradition come over better in the performance – if the pure joy of youth has a sound, this is it – than in the accompanying pop video, which doesn’t tell the folk tale of the song.

I have seen her win over a noisy West Norfolk pub crowd with her ‘I was born ready’ steeliness; bright, melodic singing (shades of Alanis Morissette and Joni) intricate guitar-play and storytelling.