Singer-songwriter Amelia Curran appears to favour her position away from the oppressive glare of the limelight. With Spectators, her first new material since 2009's Juno award-winning Hunter Hunter, Curran delivers a consciously understated confection of acoustic folk.
Doing her thing since 2000, the Canadian remains determined to say something of substance on her latest outing. Here, the Halifax, Nova Scotia-based artist concerns herself primarily with themes of transience, as the concept of the titular spectators (as active or passive onlookers) forms a thematic thread central to her eloquent and heartfelt compositions. Spectators takes the shape of an intimate, slightly bluesy exploration of the passage of time, as Curran works to put a positive spin on heartbreak and life's hardships.
Album highlights include the alt-country 'Years', a typically grown-up and measured indicator of what follows, and subsequent track, 'What Will You Be Building', a soulful and moody musing on the futility of accumulating earthly riches. 'San Andreas Fault' may bear the weight of a laboured analogy, but remains powerful enough to be affecting. Some moments (the mainstream-courting 'Blackbird on Fire', the accessible but predictable 'Strangers') fail to match Curran's own high standard, but are redeemed to some extent by the lyrical complexity of 'The Modern Man' or by 'Soft Wooden Towers' s plaintive strings.
Throughout, the music is a perfunctory vehicle for Curran's fragile yet defiant lyrics. There is a closeness to her slightly smoky voice. It's a voice that carries, wrapping events in metaphor and shrouding feelings with ambiguity. With the emphasis very much on the songwriting and the crispness and clarity of her words, the acoustic soundtrack inevitably suffers. As a result, this is an album which can sound not only low-key, but frustratingly restrained.
Spectators ought to appeal to those who like to have their emotions elicited by articulate candle-lit sentiment, but is unlikely to convert neutrals to the genre. This is stark and candid acoustic folk not dissimilar to the output of our own Gemma Hayes. Featuring an assortment of guests on piano, horns and strings, and with John Critchley orchestrating those production duties, Amelia Curran offers a delicately crafted slow-burner. Spectators rewards patience in parts, but will struggle to sustain the interest of the casual listener.
Review by Killian Barry