Sharron Kraus – Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails / Night Mare

Sharron Kraus - Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails

Sharron Kraus – Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails

Having been stretched for over a decade, across a slew of micro-labels and sometimes cut in collaboration with members of Espers and The A Lords (amongst others), the discography of globe-trotting English songstress Sharron Kraus is a somewhat intimidating body of work.  Rooting herself in traditional folk idioms, albeit with an experimentalist edge, Kraus has too often been lost in the post-pastoral crowd; perhaps due to a sometimes austere approach that hasn’t always allowed newcomers easy access to what makes her muse tick.  However, this latest album – and its accompanying bonus disc – should change the situation significantly.

Paradoxically, Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails is at first glance one of Kraus’s most left-field affairs.  Ditching the more orthodox song-based settings of her last widely available solo album (2010’s The Woody Nightshade) and aesthetically extending on her more recent dual-billed release with Plinth’s Michael Tanner (2011’s In the Rheidol Valley), this first outing on the much-revered Second Language label manifests itself as a largely word-free soundtrack to a two year stint living in rural Mid-Wales.  Using her vocals sparingly and predominantly as an ululating instrumental texture amongst multiple yet minimalist layers of guitars, dulcimer, organ, recorder, percussion, drones and field recordings, with only occasional guest player input, Pilgrim Chants is a meticulously well-measured travelogue inspired by misty mountain tops, rambling rural roads, hidden hillside streams and nocturnal agrarian ambience.

Despite distancing herself from straightforward compositions, Kraus has somehow found a more inviting sense of warmth, which makes for a collection that is as beautifully comforting and as it is bravely uncompromising.  From the opening bird song/woodwind framed “Hiraeth” and the plaintive madrigal movements of “Rowan,” via the lilting dreaminess of “Cadair Idris,” inside the choral Fursaxa-like “Candlemas Moon,” across the mesmeric synth-shadowed “Winding Road” and “Dark Pool,” through the medievalist mesh of “Y Fari Lwyd” and on to the closing “Farewell,” Pilgrim Chants documents a bewitching bucolic journey.

Sharron Kraus - Night Mare

Sharron Kraus – Night Mare

Equally as enchanting – and possibly even more so in places – is the Second Language subscribers-only sibling set, Night Mare, which stands-up as an album in its own right.  Using similar tools but going deeper into almost vocal-free instrumental realms and with a darker statement of intent, Night Mare is a masterfully executed noire score for an imaginary film.  Highlights abound throughout, with the most notable being the eerie night-sweating “Sleepless,” the spectral “Alone” and the prowling “An Army Of Woes,” which all curiously recall Tindersticks’ early instrumental explorations with an earthier twist.

Whilst these two new releases may not entirely represent Sharron Kraus’s craft as the previously converted have known it, together they nevertheless capture an artist reaching out to both previously uncharted creative extremities and to new followers with enticing assurance.

Second Language

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