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June-July 2016 – upcoming gigs – Sharron Kraus and Gillian Chadwick’s psych-folk duo Rusalnaia on tour in England with Nick Jonah Davis, Arianne Churchman, Fuzzy Hell, Sproatly Smith and Frances Chang making showings (20th June – 10th July)

18 Jun


 

Fresh off their appearance at the remarkable Sin Eater Festival (which I’ll really have to pay some better attention to, next year), psychedelic folk duo
Rusalnaia embark on a short English tour this coming week.

A sisterly alliance of acclaimed Anglo-American dark-folkster Sharron Kraus and prog/neopsych-influenced American folkie Gillian Chadwick (of Ex Reverie and Woodwose), the duo originally took shape while both women were neighbours in Fishtown, Philadelphia. Named after a placatory festival for mischievous, tickling and murderous Slavic water-nymphs, citing such touchstones as Comus, Trees, Mellow Candle, Ingar Bergman and Jefferson Airplane as influences, and self-described as “a luminously pagan witches brew”, the project is a close-bound duet of voices and (mostly) acoustic guitars. Softly-sung, it limns its lovely and carefully-crafted songs with a halo of harmonies and a mood of anticipation (and, on record at least, dashes of electric acid lead guitar, dulcimer, penny whistles and goat’s-nail shakers).

The imminent second Rusalnaia album ‘Time Takes Away’ is a rockier affair than the debut. In order to perform it live, Gill and Sharron will be backed by Sheffield drummer Guy Whittaker (Magpies, Big Eyes Family Players, Sarah Smout) and by Nottingham acoustic/electric guitarist Nick Jonah Davis (an acclaimed modal player in a mingled Bert Jansch/Nick Drake/John Fahey tradition, who usually plays either solo or as a member of the Fains duo alongside violinist Jo Cormack). Between them, Sharron and Nick will also be covering most of the tour’s support slots as solo performers.




 

Tour dates are as follows:

There will also be two further Rusalnaia festival appearances – at the free Leigh Folk Festival, Leigh-on-Sea, on Saturday 25th June; and at the SoL Party event near Hawkhurst in Kent (some time between Friday 8th and Sunday 10th July, during which time Sharron will be performing another solo set).

* * * * * * * *

En route, Rusalnaia will be linking up with some other, fascinating folk performers. The Hereford show features (in addition to a DJ set by Jus-Jay) Sproatly Smith, a self-propelled Welsh Borders institution led by guitarist and sonic visionary Ian Smith and multi-instrumentalist Matt King. This acoustic/electric collective create enthralling music inspired by rural life, ancient landscape, sundry traditional piecings (they draw on all manner of British Isles folk), Anglican metaphysics (they’ve written a whole album of Thomas Traherne poetry settings) and transitional psychedelic experiences.

The Sproatly sound is that of hilltop trips, in either sense – they sound like wide-open rural receivers, drawing in feelings, events and memories across multiple times and from multiple simultaneous perspectives. They spin out booming resonant instrumentals; hums and fragments and drones; tangles of spidery guitar and banjo; drifting childlike backward-reverbed vocals, nursery rhymes and field recordings, while still touching the earth with one toe (via singer Sarah’s anchoring of words and melody). Sitting at the heart of a growing Hereford scene of exploratory traditional musicians; they’ve redubbed their home country “Weirdshire”. When you listen to what their surroundings have inspired in their music, you can entirely empathize.


At the Sheffield show – dedicated to the summer solstice – one of the event organisers, Rob Lee, will be adding a DJ set drawing on “ethnographic recordings, velvet-clad Canterbury scenesters, private-press vanity folk, analogue madrigals and pagan jazz.” The folk remit is expanded even further with the addition of performance artist Arianne Churchman, who explores British folk traditions and rituals and reinterprets the same into modern life. Not a musician per se, she uses film, sound sculpture and costumed dancing in her works; so expect something a little immersive which won’t necessarily stay on the stage. Here are a couple of videos – one dealing with her Metal Harvest project and one recording a previous collaboration with Sharron Kraus.



 

Possibly encouraged by promoters Tor Press (who’ve already got a reputation for presenting and championing interesting music in and around their Yorkshire fastness) the Todmorden show teams up the travelling Rusalnaia circus with a couple of artists from New York State’s DIY label Life On An Island.

I’m not sure of the identity of the woman who travels under the name of Fuzzy Hell, nor of where she parks her guitar: the information which I can pick up suggests Long Island beginnings but a possible self-chosen, on/off exile in rural Ireland. All I can go on are the songs, which are wonderful. Sharply observant, witty, detached and sometimes sad; their spare, precise fingerpicking seasoned with sonic reversals, sound-aura or tape warble, their tone lies somewhere between Liz Phair and Dorothy Parker, dipping into classical legend, contemporary barlife and timeless personal complications with an equal and universal aplomb and without floundering self-indulgence. The kind of bird-bright-eyed songwriter whom you’d yearn to meet, but would be terrified of making a fool of yourself in front of.





 

Frances Chang is currently best known as the co-fronter of New York neo-shoegaze band Giant Peach, whose insouciant guitar-fuzzed alt.rock songs have garnered them plenty of praise in recent years. Her work as songwriter, however, started around a decade ago with her own bedroom solo project Neato Fleets (which apparently informs this current solo outing). Sonically, these songs can travel quite a distance from traditional or even psychedelic folk – electric from the off, the technique often a lo-fi indie scrub, the presentation sometimes undergoing casual, almost unconscious intensifications into deafening distortion. But the underpinnings are folk, and are evidence of the sensibilities of a born singer-songwriter – melodic, open lyrical examinations and sharings of intense, expanding feelings, and of making sense of the inrush of sensation when you seem to be missing a thicker skin. It’d be interesting to see what she makes of this different live setting – a thousand miles from home, in an English market town, in a mostly acoustic milieu.



 

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