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Smoke Fairies - Ghosts

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Artist: Smoke Fairies

Album: Ghosts

Label: 453 Music

Review date: Apr. 13, 2010

Freak folk isn’t as fashionable as it was a couple of years ago, and blues rock has slipped even deeper down the rabbit hole. Smoke Fairies are both, loosely speaking, and it can’t hurt that they’re speaking from a relatively quiet corner these days. Ghosts, a round-up of singles to date and one EP for the U.K. duo, is a quiet kind of record, almost too pretty for its own good in spots, drenched in otherworldly auras in others.

The Smoke Fairies Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, friends since childhood in Sussex, educated together at Tulane. As you might expect from the CV, both English folk and American blues play a role in their music, as well as the British psychedelia of the 1960s that drew from both traditions.

The lines between folk and blues and rock are permeable in these songs. “Sunshine,” which starts the disc, follows a Pentangle-ish trail of interlocking guitars. The voices are closely harmonized, whispery and evocative. Yet as the minutes pass, a barrage of electric instruments enters and the intensity picks up, more Jefferson Airplane than Judy Collins.

The fact that these women have known each other all their lives is significant. They sing and play together with the loose tether that only long practice can bring. Close, but not quite in lock step, their music has a shifting dualism, as tight harmonies splinter into individual voices, as two lines of guitar picking overlap and separate. Listening in is almost like watching a photo shift in and out of resolution – unity slipping into distinctness then melding again.

Smoke Fairies have a tendency toward preciousness, which sometimes glosses their tracks like Enya productions. The best cuts, in contrast, have a bit of the rough to them, murky textures of slide guitar, side-slipping vocal slurs and slides. “Living with Ghosts,” the track that caught Jack White’s attention (he has since recorded a single with Smoke Fairies on Third Man Records), is the standout here. Full of banked heat and smoldered slides, its singing is pitched lower, with a bruised vulnerability that is almost entirely unadorned by trills and frippery. There’s a bit of acoustic Zeppelin tucked in here, an ominous sense that the cut could turn operatically rock but is held in check.

Ghosts is just a taste, really, a catch-up collection of songs that have already been released as singles in the U.K. Still, it’s an intriguing glimpse at a duo who, if they follow their more raw and difficult tendencies, could become a very interesting proposition. The fairies part is very pretty, but it’s the smoke that’s the main draw here.

By Jennifer Kelly

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