A slightly melancholic but breezy opening to Instar marks a clear departure from Sweet Visitor (2014), Nancy Kerr’s last offering and the formation of her “Sweet Visitor Band”. It is enjoyable and singable, but a part of me does guiltily long for the sudden opening to Never Ever Lay Them Down to introduce the previous album. However, Instar is a work entirely separate, and it seems unfair to constantly be comparing the second album to the debut. Farewell Stony Ground picks the album up, and allows for an introduction to the talent of the rest of the band. It’s a song I remember well from Kerr’s show at Sheffield’s Greystones for the album launch tour, and develops the debut song’s easily sing-along style along with some great instrumental sections. Oh England What Seeds then leads on to remind us of Kerr’s other projects since her last album, namely the all-star “Sweet Liberties” project, and its lyrics of not-so-subtle protest seem all too apt and timely as ever given the political turmoil of 2016.
Written On My Skin continues this political trend. The lyrics are touching, as a song of memoriam should be, and the references to English folklore also serve as a gentle reminder to our roots from a singer who has done so well penning her own songs whilst retaining that link to traditional folk and bridging the gap between them. Fragile Water is another one that I remember from the album launch tour, and the chorus is just as hooking in the studio as it was live, but it is the bansitar playing at the opening of Kingdom that really captures my attention as we move towards the middle of the album. Captivating is the only word that I can use to describe yet another poetic offering here, and the music is really some of the most interesting we have heard from Kerr yet; not in the least because of the clear range of musical influences that are audibly present.
I have been a fan of Gingerbread ever since it was first released as a single last year, and it is good to hear it again. It is clearly one of the standout songs from the album on a first listen through, and has all the elements that a leading single should have as well as being absolutely fantastic to watch live (and sing along to!) The lyrics are again also particularly touching, as they ring out with a message of poverty and simply making do with what one has; a message I expect a lot of people will need before our own current constitutional crisis is abated.
Kerr retains her signature sound and poetic songwriting over the next few songs, but I do confess that, on first lesson, parts of them do start to blend together despite a noticeable hook in Light Rolls Home. Crows Wing stands out for some nice violin playing, as well as the great vocal harmonies in the background of the chorus as Kerr laments the inequality in society. The slightly rock-sounding introduction to See Her Fly Home is all the more attention grabbing after this, however. The music is certainly unlike many of the other songs we have heard so far; somehow harsher; perhaps this is why it quickly became one of my favourites so far. Cosmic sounds in Sisterhood continue to hold the attention of the audience well, as Kerr’s vocals weave around the band’s instruments well.
Silver Sage provides an outro that feels reminiscent of Instar, right at the beginning of the album, and the drifting bass tones help guide it to a satisfying finish. I am grateful for Kerr’s little notes in the album booklet describing the inspiration behind the songs, and they paint a picture of an album rich with thought and inspiration. Whilst I personally do not feel that this album quite tops Sweet Visitor, it abounds with musical skill and poetic lyrics, reminding us very well of how Nancy Kerr managed to nab the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for “Singer of the Year” in 2015. If the panel was paying attention to Instar, I suspect that there may well be another well-deserved award win around the corner.