The best new progressive folk releases you can buy this month

Paul Sexton scours the new releases to find there’s nowt so prog as folk.

Dear Reader - Day Fever album artwork

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First order of business this month is to tell the dear reader about Dear Reader. That’s the nom de disque (and nom de stream?) of South African-born, Berlin-based adventurer Cherilyn MacNeil, who returns with her first album for four years, Day Fever (City Slang). Recorded in San Francisco, it was introduced late last year by the single and video I Know You Can Hear It, a cool and alluring confection of futuristic and traditional folk and pop components. As the single, the album: reinforced by banks of arresting harmonies, it paints delicate likenesses that are both personal to the artist’s background and universal to the moods of isolation and self-doubt, but always with palpable warmth and optimism. Oh, The Sky! typifies the record’s smart juxtaposition of old and new, with woodwinds and synthesisers collaborating to compelling effect behind MacNeil’s gripping narration. It’s indie-folk of the highest stripe.

James Edge And The Mindstep admirably describe themselves as “mutant folk jazz aberrations,” in which case they’re another of our favourite deviations of the month. The self-released Machines He Made comes more than six years after the Kent-raised Edge’s other album with the Mindstep, In The Hills, The Cities. There’s an intimacy to his vocals and an almost literal earthiness to his lyricism, heightened by titles like Ammonites and Cryptid. They work splendidly against acoustic guitar and eerie strings that play like a wonky echo of Nick Drake. There are fingerprints of Edge’s classical training, and Radiohead diehards could often be at home here, too.

The Breath’s Carry Your Kin (Real World) has been making friends since last summer, but is much deserving of belated applause. The group includes ex-Cinematic Orchestra guitarist Stuart McCallum and his confederates in that project, John Ellis (piano) and Luke Flowers (drums), in an ear-catching alliance with singer-lyricist Rioghnach Connolly. Again, you hear age-old undertones, but they work with elements of Irish folk, jazz and modern rock. Standouts include Antwerp and This Dance Is Over, and the group’s place in Peter Gabriel’s ever-inquisitive Real World federation is well-earned.

Strata (Songprint) is the second album by Scottish singer-songwriter Siobhan Miller, recently introduced at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections and, now on a UK tour. Its delicate traditions, announced by the fetching single One Too Many Mornings, reflect the sonic heirlooms of a sweet-voiced troubadour.

Last and certainly not least, Wildwood Kin’s recent single The Author and its predecessor Warrior Daughter (MBM) are among the alluringly harmonised, percussively urgent offerings of the increasingly noted trio from Exeter, featuring sisters Emillie and Beth Key and their cousin Meghann Loney. They’ve just bagged the Bob Harris Emerging Artist title at the UK Americana Awards, and look set to claim 2017 as their own.

Prog Magazine contributor Paul Sexton is a London-based journalist, broadcaster and author who started writing for the national UK music press while still at school in 1977. He has written for all of the British quality press, most regularly for The Times and Sunday Times, as well as for Radio Times, Billboard, Music Week and many others. Sexton has made countless documentaries and shows for BBC Radio 2 and inflight programming for such airlines as Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific. He contributes to Universal's uDiscoverMusic site and has compiled numerous sleeve notes for the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and other major artists. He is the author of Prince: A Portrait of the Artist in Memories & Memorabilia and, in rare moments away from music, supports his local Sutton United FC and, inexplicably, Crewe Alexandra FC.