Part of Celtic Connections 2016
Great beauty in art often comes from almost unimaginable pain. Aberdeen-born singer-songwriter Kathryn Joseph, worthy winner of last year’s Scottish Album of the Year with debut Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled is acutely aware of this. Her songs are like rough-hewn diamonds mined from the darkest corners of her soul, as with The Why What, Baby which deals with the loss of her first child and The Weary, a lyrical meditation on the impact of war .
Her incredible disquieting voice is at once old and girlish. Her intensity as a performer transfixes you, and to move would seem impious.The cyclical songs have both an astonishing music box delicacy and feral ferocity. Played with rolls and stabs of her piano, they are all accompanied by Marcus Mackay’s inventive percussion. It’s intriguing to watch him scraping at a cymbal with a drumstick, creating an eerie theremin-like howl; yet Joseph’s voice is of course its own unique, fluttery instrument.
The Bone elicits delighted shrieks from the packed ‘congregation’, as does gorgeous hit The Bird, but it’s The Crow which is most affecting- a stripped-down lullaby to loss (also alluding to losing her baby). It’s a real struggle not to cry, as she spits out, ”All I can do… is write shit lullabies/ to a baby I don’t make/ and tell you lies.”
Dressed in gold and black, Joseph often seems lost to the catharsis of the moment, but she’s a delightful, smiling presence inbetween, swigging heartily from a wine glass and giggling as she liberally uses the F bomb and cracks quips, overcome by the generosity of her many supporters. Music heals so many wounds. Whole truths have rarely sounded so sublime, and we emerge from the beautiful church as true believers.