Friends and Enemies; Lovers and Strangers
(Clay Pipe Music)
Any music by Sharron Kraus is bound to be good. No, scratch that. Any recording by Sharron Kraus is bound to be good. Even if she released an mp3 of herself reading a restaurant menu, I’m sure it would be enjoyable on some level. On that note, her record Friends and Enemies; Lovers and Strangers is not only good, it’s glorious.
Kraus’ music is usually like darkly tinged English folk, yet this record is perhaps the closest her music has come to sounding like something that was dug up from Britain’s past. This comes to no surprise when you realize that this album was inspired largely by 11th century Welsh folk tales. Her music here conjures up pastoral English images, like lonely stonewalls and forgotten cemeteries at twilight, old herbalists wandering through a haunted wood, young maidens celebrating the autumn harvest, etc.
These images are easy to imagine thanks to the combination of Kraus’ elegant vocals and pearly-tones, plaintive recorders and trickling dulcimer and harp as well as chilled guitar and piano. These combined instruments and elements also make this album sound not unlike a lost Pentangle or John Renbourn record.
It’s hard to pick just one stand out track or find a favorite amongst all of this top-form material, but “The Birds of Rhiannon” is certainly worthy of fitting such a bill. The song is a slow, poignant tune, allowing for Kraus’ gentle and mournful vocals and the icy instrumental accompaniment plenty of room for building an immense atmosphere of phantasmal gloom. The entire track plays like a particularly haunting Edgar Allen Poe poem or tombstone epitaph.
Utterly stunning in every way possible, Friends and Enemies; Lovers and Strangers is perfect for any fan of English folk music as well as for playing on a dark, cold autumn day.