Frozen Rabbit (ABC)
For someone who makes such good ones, Felicity Urquhart doesn’t make anywhere near enough albums.
Yeah, yeah, I know, she got married, had a family, also works as a broadcaster, and, well, does other things that normal people have to do. Not to mention the rather wonderful trio album she released last year with Kevin Bennett and Lyn Bowtell. So fulfilling my greedy requirements is not exactly high on her list of priorities.
Anyway, it’s good to get this. Frozen Rabbit, her seventh album since the self-titled debut in 1992, and first solo release since 2009’s Landing Lights, is a record that feels satisfying. It also ticks off several key Urquhart basics: it’s well written, well produced, well sung, well intentioned.
That probably sounds like a patronising list, a kind of “oh, bless”, which could allow us to note well, then move on. But take a look around the local releases and the truth is it is rare to find all four of those together without one or more being tacked on like a post-it note from a label accountant. Or without one of them – and I’m looking at you “well intentioned” – getting either clumsy or tacky.
And Urquhart doesn’t do that. That’s why she can offer something like Where The Fruit Hangs Low, with the too rarely heard these days voice of Shanley Del, and we trust her. The song remains lyrically enigmatic – “the children wash their hands in the water,” she repeats - but carries a character of impending sadness, maybe even bleakness: in the fiddle that feels like a saw, in the speculative guitar, and the tone of those two voices. So we go there.
The trust she carries also means she can take something as traditional as a song about tough lives on a land which seems permanently poised to reject us, such as Speck Of Dust, and not make it sound like she’s merely working the hoary salt-of-the-earth angle. Matching this, there’s a solidity to the sound but not a heaviness as producer/guitarist Glen Hannah doesn’t overload the significance, letting the song do the work.
By contrast, the Smokey Mountains spring of the opening song, New Harmony (which tells the story of Hannah’s proposal to her in the Indiana town of the same name), the echoing bluegrass of the closing song, Strawberry Footprints (where you can almost feel the heel-toe dance about to bust out), and the buoyant Chain Of Joy (where the rhythm is beaten out on the body of the guitar in keeping with the relaxed acoustic tenor of the track) have a lightness to them that might easily drift away. Yet each stays anchored by dint of feeling natural. And true.
If Breaking Your Heart Again sounds like Stop Dragging My Heart Around Redux, and Hopscotch Sunday is on the nicely-nice-story side of things, they still don’t grate, because in the first instance Urquhart and Hannah don’t overplay their chunky hand, and then because she doesn’t ever feel anything but genuine.
Anyway, if you prefer your horizons cloudy you can lean into the title track, with its pedal steel pointing the way for a story about time running ahead of (and running out before) any of our plans, or the tinge of regret about wasting that time in Slow It Down.
That song incidentally is one of several involving the late Karl Brodie either in the writing or the performance which have appeared on local albums in the past nine months. They all serve to show – rather than just tell – his imprint on writers, singers and musicians.
It’s a continuing sad reminder but also a fitting way to remember. And indeed, a further sign of the tasteful, truthful, work of Frozen Rabbit.