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Flux (Memphis Industries)

There’s a real busy-ness to Rachael Dadd’s Flux, which - to my slight embarrassment at having missed her so far, but greater excitement at the history to explore next - is her sixth album.

The arrangements feature brass and banjo, piano and curling guitar lines, loads of folk founds but a strong echo of jazz, flute and saxophone, and constant movement. Her singing feels light but ultra flexible, like one of those impossible gymnasts, constantly realigning itself for new circumstances.

And her lyrics won’t settle for the easy routes of obscurity (to keep modernity at bay) or grimness (to hold hope at a distance), while tackling vexing issues such as small-minded nationalism, the appeal and problems of cross-border lives, and the various strand of liberty: cultural, political, personal.

In fact, in one song, Beacon, you get a fair spread of many of those within its four minutes and 11 seconds: opening with ominous drum rolls and semi-chanted vocals that then eases, via a descending horn line, into a pastoral gentleness of acoustic picking and airiness, that in turn begins to rise on flute and lightly martial beat, and then floats away on a reminder that “knowledge flows”.

By contrast, Two Islands (and to a fair extent, Two Coiled Springs too) feels like a bluegrass band somehow springing from Northumbrian soil (banjo and wistful vocals merging with trace elements of a mining town’s brass band) and Knot has even simpler model of lo-fi indie rock, all murmuring instruments in a circular rhythm cranking itself up to an unresolved tension, and Animal leaves its folk roots bare and yet well-tended.

Yet all these songs are from the same stock as the punchy jauntiness of Cut My Roots, which swings back and forth across the Irish Sea, stylistically, while donning a rather shiny coat of studio swing. And they all fit alongside the jazz tempos of Language Of Water, which shifts position constantly even as Dadd’s vocals stay straight and quietly determined.

The link is a sense of universality, an exchange of equals with all the influences Dadd – an Englishwoman living part of the year in Japan, part of it in Bristol, and a lot of it on the road – brings to bear. It’s not that the lines blur, but rather that they align.

All of which makes sense when you remember, as she sings in the album’s marimba-enhanced, driven-bass, snaky-guitar, hope-catching opener, Arrows, “we are matter, we are sinews, electricity”, and that doesn’t do borders.

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