Talented young Aberdeenshire singer Iona Fyfe released her debut album Away From My Window last year to great acclaim and recently won the MG Alba Scots Singer of the Year award. She begins 2019 by releasing a new E.P. ‘Dark Turn Of Mind’, named after the Gillian Welch song which features on the release. Having been raised in the north-east folk tradition of Doric songs, Fyfe uses this EP to expand her recording repertoire and sing songs in English – including modern folk songs and Appalachian ballads.
Title track Dark Turn Of Mind opens the EP, and it’s an interesting choice and arrangement. The singing is as bright as the morning but the music suggests Fyfe could also be at home in a dark, smoky jazz club somewhere. The piano ballad style evokes Norah Jones (any young singer could do well to follow in the footsteps of that stylish interpreter of songs).
Swing and Turn is an infectious and delightful tune, well suited to her voice and band. Fyfe originally heard it sung by Laura Cortese and the song was recorded by the mother of folk music Jean Ritchie in her ‘Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians’. Ritchie’s influence is found throughout this E.P. with ‘The Golden Vanity’ and ‘Little Musgrave’ both having been sung by her. The former song has roots in the north east and the latter too is an amalgamation of text and melody that reaches across the Atlantic and back again to Scotland. The clarity of Fyfe’s voice really conveys the power of these old story songs.
Modern folk songwriters also feature on this album, as well as Welch, we also have a version of If I Go, I’m Goin, written by Gregory Alan Isakov. Here Fyfe embraces the darker side of her voice with hauntingly beautiful results.
‘Let Him Sink’ has a melody written by Fyfe and the lyrics come from a variety of old sources, some of which may have had origins in Scotland. Ballads like these are universal in theme and appeal. The central refrain ‘if he’s gone, let him go, let him sink or let him swim / he don’t care for me and I don’t care for him’ is wistfully carefree, like a feminist folk song of sorts.
In order to become a successful folk artist you must be equally as skilled in choosing songs as singing them. ‘Dark Turn Of Mind’ proves Fyfe can do both. This short EP has allowed her to try something a little different, with impressive results.