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Eight Pointed Star (Fire Records)


IT’S ALL THERE in one picture, and read right could probably save you a few hundred words of a review – though I’d rather you didn’t.

On the cover of Marina Allen’s third solo album, in a room which seems to be narrowing, she is poised precariously between a stool on which she’s standing and a piano she only just reaches with her other foot. In golden satin that might be sleepwear or retro evening wear, she’s reaching for the ceiling and simultaneously reaching for a scrap of paper on the piano.

Eight Pointed Star, a collection of muted tones and well-contained tempos, in some ways finds its explanation in Swinging Doors, a song atypically pop/rock-busy, as we find Allen poised between things done and a future promising things done better. “Truth is all I have to choose/Choice comes out of time, in truth.”. She is quietly approaching the table with a raft of commitments – from her, from others – that she would like to believe are worth more than mere tokens because there are needs. “When I learned to finally sing/I will be the bend in a ring/Laugh at all these broken things/A melody unravelling.”

It’s not done with blunt force, but it does have a sense of something like urgency, a touch of impatience. “It comes to me in passages/Something about dust to ashes/Something about pound for pound/Crying out the well has been found.” And it retains the ability to set you back a bit with its clarity. “I eat the meat, I eat the bones.”

Either side of Swinging Doors, Allen does the emotional heavy lifting in the lightest of manners. Red Cloud, held between jazz and folk, delivered between conversational and poised to fly, loads up its imagery of “swollen heart and hips”, of watching “how hot tears melt metal” and a stew “with rainwater and frozen meat, thick with pine needles, warm beer and baby teeth”. And within those images she builds a bridge between the hard work of merely existing while retaining yourself and the dream of something better, as Davin Givhan’s transportive bass and her voice push us forward.

In Bad Eye Opal, the violin returns as part guide and part companion to Allen’s now more fragile voice that reaches higher, exposes more. While the musical setting is a kind of elegant parlour ensemble around an old-fashioned synth, the story told is a classic one of harsh nature and harsher humanity leaving its mark on skin and spirit, while wrapped within it is a dedication to not let those marks define everything to come.

There is a similar trio of gently presented hurt framing vibrant momentum soon after on the album, with the murmured country of Easy and Landlocked either side of Love Comes Back’s new wave of New Wave, reminding us that each step taken in changing your life comes with a shadow no matter how much light you want to project forward. “In that big field between history and harvest/All we have is what we have forgiven,” Allen sings. “Landlocked in love, it’s the past that outlives us.”

It’s a balance and a blend, Eight Pointed Star seems to be saying, of options closing but still graspable and changes coming but never free of what had made those changes necessary. As Allen sings in the (a touch more bitter than sweet) bittersweet Between Seasons, which refashions Judee Sill’s formalism and freedom, “So when I say love I mean my open face/When I say again I mean I’m keeping my mistakes.”


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