As I was listening to this Martha Fields album over the last couple of days, a thought struck me: My life would make for a crap folk song.

I was considering this as I locked the door to the house that I’ve lived in for 33 years – before that I lived around the corner. I go to vote in elections in the same school that I started at in 1980, which is on the road I now live on.

Not the stuff of troubadour wanderlust, but the itinerant life doesn’t suit everyone. Those that want to write about the human condition, though, are made of different stuff.

For “Dancing Shadows” Fields took herself to the fields of France, and wrote the songs, as she puts it herself: “straight from the heart.”

Working with her touring band, Manu Bertrand, Serge Samyn, Urbain Lambert, Olivier Leclerc and Denis Bielsa, they have crafted a brilliantly varied record, each one of the 14 songs offering something and with something fresh to say.

“Sukey” for example, opens things in bluesy fashion, but there’s a sass, a funkiness here too: “I am the Queen of my cabin, hold my own on racoon creek, got no faith in no one, only my bare feet” she sings here – and in so doing sets the tone for the whole record.

“Paris To Austin” is probably even better. A real longing, a real fragility, as she deals with homesickness, “I’ll pretend the Eifel Tower is a big oil well” is perhaps indicative of the coping mechanism here, while the primal sounding “Exile” casts her in the mode of looking at the situation in her homeland with a sense of bewilderment.

“Demona” is a bluegrass stomper of a thing, while you can almost touch her pain on “Oklahoma” such is the wonderfully evocative imagery, but there is a sense of fun too, and “Forbidden Fruit” damn sure knows where the trouble can be found.

A mix of styles is the key to “…Shadows”. A real country, honky tonk strand is found on “Last Train To Sanesville” but that is balanced really superbly by another of the confessional ones: “West Virginia In My Bones” and there is some mighty lap steel here too – and nothing says longing like lap steel after all.

Interesting percussion drives the stoic “Desert Flower”, there’s a real campfire feel about “Maxine” while if all break-ups spawned songs as good as “Fare Thee Well Blues” then sign me up.

And, if you want a quick handle on what Martha Fields is all about  – and therefore this album likewise – then listen to “Hillbilly Bop” – “I may rock and I may roll” she sings, “but I am a hillbilly in my soul” and that’s why this is so very, very good – that and the ability to whip up a storm like on “Said And Done” and sound as late night perfect as “Lone Wolf Waltz” anyway.

A record that both immediately grabs, and still manages to reveal more of itself each time, “Dancing Shadows” is absolutely superb. Consider these either Martha Fields’ holiday diaries, or postcards for the 21st century. Either way, it is a first-class trip.

Rating 8.5/10

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