The Whorl - Reviewed by David Kidman

The final instalment of Judy’s entrancing trilogy of albums for Talking Elephant is a perfect continuation of the second (Spindle), notably in the consistency of both its poetic lyrical invention and its adopted sound-world. It brings eight more new songs to the table, resplendent in beautiful aural clothing that’s smooth but edgy, refined but somehow quite primeval. The dominant timbre is, as before, intelligent prog-ambient keyboard texturings, which are all down to the wizardry of Judy’s chief collaborator Mark Swordfish (of Astralasia); however, such is the excellence of the recording that neither is Judy’s vocal ever in danger of being drowned in a sea of synths nor are the key instrumental lines or "voices" held anywhere but in exemplary balance. Although Judy’s now some distance away from the milieu of folk-rock where she made her name with the original lineup of Fairport Convention, she still retains a connection with that world – not just through occasional appearances at Cropredy but here on record through the very sound of her voice (one which some feel defined the late-60s’ initial love-affair with the experimental psych scene), that eternally unmistakable clear, pure tone and cut-glass enunciation which just couldn’t be anyone else. This quality enables the two genres to collide – or at least brush shoulders – just a little on The Whorl, notably on the mystical portrait of The Teller and the wistful romanticism of The Last Kiss. And, incidentally, that also occurs on the album’s one non-original, a magisterial reworking of the landmark first-album King Crimson number I Talk To The Wind. Elsewhere, the frontiers of song as we normally understand it are breached by the whispered spoken lyric of Seventh Whorl (offset against a jittery, chattering, eastern-inflected, or should I say astral-Asian, backdrop) and the electronically treated (wilfully obscured) vocal cadences of Wazzle Wizzle; these tracks provide a startling contrast with the genial simplicity of the opening mantra Starlight, whose rippling hammered dulcimer counterpoint is hard to resist, and the heady but harmonious expression of sensory perception in Forever Shining. In addition to the aforementioned Mark S, Judy’s support crew includes a certain Mr Fripp (soundscape and lead guitar), as well as Simon House (violins, keyboards), Peter Pracownik (guitars) and Dave Russell (banjo, bouzouki) – all of whom have a clearly defined part to play, and acquit themselves very well. And I’ll admit that I’ve never been a great fan of synth textures and programming, which I’ve often found used as gimmicks to mask a paucity of musical invention, but I’ll always happily make an exception when these resources are used creatively and selectively at the service of the music, as here they are throughout. All the elements come together most satisfyingly, and thus The Whorl now takes its place alongside Spindle as another triumphant addition to Judy’s CV; I eagerly await her next project.

David Kidman - December 2007

ROCK’n’REEL Review : Issue 4 July/August 2007