REVIEW: Cinder Well’s “No Summer” is Durable Strength in Lyric and Melody


Cinder Well – No Summer

Amelia Baker is the Irish singer with “the lonesome touch” known as Cinder Well. Having grown up in California that didn’t dismiss any of the old-world brilliance in her vocalese. She has a slow-burning charm in her tone. She can obviously sing an old traditional folk song or could simply write a new one and make it sound over a hundred years old.

She’s blessed with this intensity that was found in the late Sandy Denny, in the richness of June Tabor, & in the more modern Christine Collister & Linda Thompson.

The title track “No Summer,” is spare & has no dynamics except for the richness in her pleading tone. The thickness in the melody comes from the durable strength of the lyric & melody. Amelia plays guitar, organ & fiddle. She’s joined only by Marit Schmidt (viola, vocals) & Mae Kessler (violin, vocals).

“Our Lady’s,” – based on an abandoned mental asylum that operated between 1856 & 2002 is the basis for this well-constructed & arranged tale. It has an urgency & power despite being performed stripped of any bombastic instrumentation. The ancestral approach is all that’s needed. The rush of tradition punctuates but never clutters. The musicianship is haunting & reminiscent of the power that is found as well in Joni Mitchell’s telling of “The Magdalene Laundries.” Which is equally compelling.

What’s impressive is how a song exceeding 7 minutes & with spare instruments can indeed hold one’s interest in such a moving manner. No showboating – just clear storytelling married to transformative notes & Amelia’s urgent vocals that never waver. They grip an ear & remain persistent.

While I like “Fallen,” I don’t think it showcases Amelia in her best light. Perhaps she reaches for high notes that aren’t her brightest & as she reaches, she loses some spirit. This doesn’t diminish the song – “Fallen,” is a good strong song with a wall of strings. Maybe Amelia needs to start the song on notes a bit lower that won’t stretch her ability later. I can’t help but think she’s straining when she doesn’t have to. She doesn’t have the timbre to maintain that kind of projection. But I still think she does an admirable job on a notable song.

9-tracks are featured on the tri-fold 38-minute CD No Summer (drops July 24 – Free Dirt Records) & includes lyrics.

On “The Cuckoo,” an old Jean Ritchie nugget shows the absorbing color of Amelia’s voice to its fullest. This is a beauty. Amelia goes deep & sexy – and is just loaded with vintage wine, baked apples, woodsmoke & an air of simpler times. I have no doubt in another era Amelia could’ve found a seat with a band like Fairport Convention. She wears traditional melodies like a velvet cape & hood. Amelia straddles the traditions of Irish folk music & Appalachian styles effectively.

Produced by Amelia Baker (Cinder Well) & available here:

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