There's Strength in Song
For me, 2020 has been (among other things) a year of rediscovering the joy of the album. I’ve always enjoyed the excitement that comes with waiting for a highly anticipated record, but this year, when live music has been taken away from us, my appreciation for the LP has been renewed. I can’t see my favourite acts perform, or discover new artists while wandering around festivals, so the release of a new record, such as Emma Langford’s Sowing Acorns, like a fresh statement from our time, feels all the more significant.
After a seemingly quick rise to prominence with the release of her debut Quiet Giant in 2017, Langford went on to tour Europe, host an album launch in Germany, perform at Milwaukee Irish Fest and win the title of Best Emerging Artist at the RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards in 2018. In 2019 she was awarded the inaugural Dolores O’Riordan Bursary, allowing her to finish this album. This year during lockdown – when she began hosting regular live-streamed concerts and releasing singles from this record – I began listening more.
This thirteen-track album is a dulcet blend of folk-inspired songwriting and Langford’s pristine voice, with pockets of pop tendencies scattered throughout, providing bursts of effervescence, adding to the overall halcyon mood of the record. Some moments draw us into Langford’s folk and traditional side, while others explore her indie-pop leanings more directly – ‘Mariana’ and ‘Goodbye Hawaii’ – surrounding themes of personal strength, troubled relationships and mental health.
‘The Winding Way Down to Kells Bay’ was written as a tribute to the people and landscape of the Iveragh peninsula in County Kerry. This softly sung ballad with finger-plucked guitar is where we get a true sense of Langford’s folk influences. And we hear it more prominently in the following track ‘Port na Bpúcaí’. An air from the Blasket Islands, it is performed solo on cello by Alec Brown, serving as a moment of repose, a breathing point before rolling into ‘Sowing Acorns’, featuring a poem by Belfast-based spoken word artist Vanessa Ifediora.
Collaboration is an important part of this album. In addition to Brown and Ifediora, Langford credits several artists on the opening track ‘Birdsong’, an ensemble of female voices including Jess Leen, Niamh Farrell (Ham Sandwich), Ruth Smith, Alma Kelliher, Sadhbh O’Sullivan and Cari Q.
The album’s sleeve-notes are accompanied by a collage of old family photos, as well as hand-drawn sketches, notes and an opening letter. Sowing Acorns feels like an insight into Langford’s sense of being, her personal strength and endurance. As gentle and harmonious as it is in sound and mood, this second album is strong and bold in sentiment, as she proclaims in the first few minutes of the album, ‘My own self is my own, I am strong as my bones’.
To purchase Sowing Acorns, visit https://emmalangfordmusic.bandcamp.com/
Published on 15 October 2020
Shannon McNamee is assistant editor of the Journal of Music.