Jackie Oates – Lullabies

Unless there are babies in the house, this would appear to be a somewhat niche and perhaps even indulgent fifth album by Oates, who cut her teeth with The Unthanks and has since gone on to star with The Imagined Village. Niche, but nevertheless intriguing.

There’s certainly no disputing her commitment to the project and the zealous research involved in compiling a collection of lullabies that draws on material ranging from Shakespeare (Philomel from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) to A.A Milne (Alexander Beetle via Melanie Safka).

There’s also Paul McCartney’s Junk, from his first solo album in 1970, and The Incredible String Band are called upon through Mike Heron’s Sleepers Awake.

Partly recorded in Reykjavik, it also features a couple of Icelandic language songs constructed in collaboration with one of Iceland’s most celebrated singers and musicians, Bara Grimsdottir.

And, with a strong supporting cast (including Reykjavik Sinfonia) and Oates herself playing an imaginative concoction of Scandinavian instruments, it has clearly been assembled with tender loving care.

Oates sings with her customary intimacy and gorgeousness certainly abounds – the unaccompanied Wexford Lullaby, sung in three-part harmony with Bara Grimsdottir and Chris Foster, is wonderful.

Elsewhere, the instrumental When I Was a Lady is beautifully arranged, and her interpretation of Bill Caddick’s Waiting for the Lark is exceptional.

By its own definition, however, the album carries an unremittingly genteel air that ultimately defines its specialist status. While she’s plundered plenty of rare and unfamiliar material to fascinate students of lullabies, over the course of an entire album the prettified mood becomes wearing.

It feels like being incarcerated in a soft eiderdown: for a while it’s utter bliss, but then comes the urge to kick it off and have a pillow fight.

In this sense, the more modern material like McCartney’s Junk offers a welcome diversion while the directness of Alexander Beetle – a song apparently sung to her as a child by her own mum – affords some lightness, though it stretches the charm quota to breaking point.

It’s churlish to criticise an album so lovingly executed, especially when it comes in such a terrific sleeve design, but beware sentimentality in all its guises.

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