Scottish singer-songwriter Siobhan Miller’s fourth solo album sees her opting for a more stripped- back feel than 2018’s Mercury. In making this latest record, the singer – winner of a 2018 Radio 2 Folk Award and three ‘Singer of the Year’ titles at the Scots Trad Music Awards – made clear her aim: to create something “as raw and honest as possible”.
In an effort to capture the atmosphere of her live shows, Miller settles on a mixture of original and traditional songs, recorded live in Glasgow’s Gloworm Studio with engineer Iain Hutchison. Her band consists of Lau’s Kris Drever on guitar & vocals, fiddler Megan Henderson, guitarist Innes White, John Lowrie on piano and Kim Carnie on backing vocals, with Miller’s husband Euan Burton joining on double bass.
The album begins with the title track, introduced by a hopeful softly-picked guitar part. The piece – a reflective co-write between Miller, Drever & Burton, develops gradually with a rising arrangement and intriguing imagery. The vocals of Miller, Drever and Carnie, placed carefully in the mix by Hutchison, complement each other beautifully. A rhythmic shift at the end comes unexpectedly, effective in softly driving home the song’s message and refrain.
The slightly darker tone of ‘May Morning Dew’ sees Miller’s voice alone and crystal clear, allowing her measured use of dynamics to communicate the tension of the slow air. Henderson’s fiddle comes to the fore, haunting and controlled.
The middle of the record gives focus to three original songs, each one quite different from the other. ‘Now You Need Me’ is catchy and uplifting, the full band joining once more in a glistening arrangement, with Lowrie’s calming piano setting the tone. ‘I Won’t Let You Let Me Down’ (written for Siobhan by her husband Burton after their wedding) quite simply sounds like a dream, with its strong use of the Lydian mode. The rich visual imagery in the lyrics develop the story slowly, ending with a compelling use of repetition, as Burton confirms the promise contained within the title. ‘While the Whole World Sleeps’ – written with Findlay Napier – had me singing along on the first listen, impressed by its original yet familiar feel.
The tempo rises for the penultimate track, ‘Tranent’, which Miller declares as being “the closest traditional song I’ve found to my home town (Penicuik)”. She handles the fast-paced lyrics with playful confidence, the instruments keeping apace with their galloping accompaniment. The album closes with the tongue-in-cheek humour of ‘Cholesterol’, its clever lyrics and waltzing rhythm culminating in an informal singalong. This candid performance is a fitting finisher; it gives you a sense of the fun had by all, which Miller says was a key part of the recording process.
The mixture of traditional material and original songs (employing a variety of co-writers) creates a collection with remarkable breadth to it. The band’s arrangements give the album a cohesive feel, but each song is treated differently and given its own place within the whole. The album reminded me of Cara Dillon’s recent work – in the mixing, arrangements and song choices – and fans of hers would do well to give this a try. All Is Not Forgotten has a graceful sense of calm to it: a perfect remedy for a time like this, and one that will no doubt increase the appetite for Miller’s next live performances, whenever they come.