Album Review: Katie Doherty and the Navigators – And Then

Previous winner of BBC Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year has reclaim her grip at the top of the UK’s Folk scene. Northumberland’s Katie Doherty releases her second album And Then, over a decade after her debut Bridges. And this time, she has joined forces with the Navigators: Dave Gray and Shona Mooney.

During her break from music production, the artist worked with theatre company November. By their side, she composed a score for the award-winning musical Beyond The End Of The Road – an experience that lead to her new ensemble. Thanks to her unconventional route, the Folk world can gratefully enjoy the benefits of this harmonious partnership.

Opener “I’ll Go Out” immediately plucks the strings of its listener’s soul, by introducing the deep earthy accordion sound. This is expertly juxtaposed with Doherty’s angelic vocals. Her speaker plans to drink away her issues – ‘to remind her body how to feel’ –  against a backdrop of a candlelit tavern based in a rural valley. The scenery is just exquisite.

And Then begins with the chaos of contemporary life, but its world gradually transitions into an ethereal, otherworldly setting. Luckily, however, its creators have managed to dodge over sentimentality. A sense of grief pricks into the initial track, adding more depth to its thematic layout. ‘All I have is gone’ is an especially sharp lamentation – one that will no doubt linger after it’s been heard. A message of hope restores the magical element promised by the first minute or so, which helps to create a more rounded narrative.

“Yours” sees the speaker step out of the tavern and into the outdoors. Here, the team have clearly interlaced two natural states – the visible beauty of nature and the hidden power of emotion. In doing so, they have produced a postmodern take on the medieval romance. Minimalist language conveys nature’s bloom perfectly. ‘I’d show you the stars/ but they’re brighter where you are’ is flattery in its rawest form. This lyrical genius occurs over a sturdy bridge of violins. This choice in instrumentalism prompts the question: Is there anything more lyrical than the sound of strings?

Plucked violin initiate “Navigator”, a strong reinforcement of the album’s governing theme: change. ‘I made your voice the loudest in my head/ turn it up and start again’ is a particularly powerful phrase. Doherty embraces the concept of rebirth, as her accompanying duo delivering an empowering tune. An especially springy moment mimics the folk staple of jig music. “Heart Ballroom”, conversely, follows with a melancholy – almost bluesy – lone piano. This creates the ideal foundation for Doherty’s rendering of teenage innocence in the throws of romance. Once again, unspoiled language conveys powerful imagery. ‘We wrote our names on the floor with our feet’ exemplifies this.

“Rose in Winter / Polska” reveals a classic tale of what Doherty and her gang describe simply as ‘strength and beauty’. At this part in the sequence, rain falls on to the rose, followed by snow and cold northern winds – yet the rose ‘lifts its head’ in the face of it all. A gentle chiming of bells imbues the piece with enchantment. All the while, the fable of the rose unfolds.

Given the recurring theme of oppression throughout the album, it could be commenting on the struggles of women in contemporary society. Or maybe it represents the struggle for Folk to retain its significance in a world of technologically-enhanced music. Its meaning is open to interpretation – as all great art is.

Approximately three minutes in, there there is a crafty tempo change. At this turn, violins build a storm of tension, before a more haunting sound is achieved. “Angry Daughter”, conversely, presents a more “Fight Back” story of resistance and rebellion against maltreatment. It seems uncoincidental that this follows the story of the struggling rose.

The eponymous track displays a style that listeners would expect to hear in a Disney film, comprised of bright piano chords and even brighter lyrics, such as ‘Don’t let them win’. Subsequent song “Tiny Little Shoes” highlights the power of youth before examining the various aspects of adulthood.

“We Burn” concludes the collection with violins, compelling words, and passion. In true euphoric Folk fashion, it invites us to accept and – in our own time – relinquish the troubles of life. It cements the overarching theme of the album one last time.

And Then gifts its listeners with a breath of fresh air. It has the power to transport us from the frantic everyday to the open Cumbrian plains. You may even feel the brisk British wind on your face.

Benjamin Kempton

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