Heidi Talbot is no stranger to the Celtic scene. As a member of Cherish the Ladies, Talbot has risen to the top of her game using her pipes—vocals I mean, not uillean. Now, with the help of producer and vocalist John Doyle, Talbot has ventured out on her own with her solo debut. And from the first note she hits, one gets the sort of hair-rising goose bumps that only come along every so often (or when you listen to fellow Celtic folk belle Kate Rusby!). Backed by a simple and barren arrangement that lets her do most of the work and thereby reap the rewards, “In Silence I Go” is a picture-perfect, note-perfect Celtic folk song. In no rush to finish the song and taking her time throughout, Talbot stays true to her strengths. Julia Weatherford adds cello at times, but it’s basically the singer’s tune. “I’ve sold my soul to your memory / The scent of your hair, cruel almond eye”, she utters in an almost dreamy, lullaby state.
More up-tempo is the shimmering “Jealousy”, which brings to mind the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem performing “Peggy Gordon”, both having a similar melody and sway to this track. Doyle’s guitar is more pronounced against Talbot’s performance of this song, which is found both in the old country and in the Appalachians, depending on which version you’re seeking. Here Talbot gets more out of herself than many peers can muster at the best of times, but it’s completely effortless. Fiddle, bass, and bouzouki round out the number quite nicely as well. “Muddy Water” comes off as a singer-songwriter affair, with Talbot backed by Dirk Powell on piano. She lets loose, although she picks her spots sparingly on the somber and stellar song. It then builds slowly with an acoustic guitar but never gets into a grandiose structure.
When Talbot opts for more of a style suited to this side of the pond and its “mountain music”, the results are about average. “I Dream of You” tries to be a country tune, a Celtic tune, and a folk tune rolled into one. Think of Dolly Parton trying to do traditional Celtic songs and you might have some idea of where she’s heading here. It’s okay, but a bit of a letdown after three consecutive fabulous tracks. “Geography” fares better with its roots-like folk a la the Waifs. The percussion is its selling point, as it’s very warm and complements the vocals greatly. Here, Talbot knows what works and musically rolls with it, sounding as if she’s recording it around a kitchen table or on a back porch. Perhaps the biggest jewel is “High Germany”, which returns to a heartbreaking ballad that has Talbot front and center. The title track could put one to their knees with its fragile and whispered delivery. “And like a fool I left you / And a simple wedding vow / Like a fool I left you / On the road to some distant future”, she sings as Doyle’s guitar barely enters this sonic picture.
Like all good Celtic singers, and albums for that matter, Talbot wouldn’t go a whole disc without proving her salt on at least one lament. “MacCrimmon’s Lament” is such a song, but is weakened by the backing female harmonies, her own backing harmonies in fact. Her voice alone without the added timbre would be more than enough, as again Doyle is in the distance with his concertina. The album ends with “Your Favorite Star”, another gem on which Talbot stands out yet again. Cherish the Ladies might still continue in some mode or manner down the road, but if Heidi Talbot goes more this solo road, you will be definitely cherishing this lady without question.