This album comes from Newfoundland folk trio, The Once. All lead vocals are by Geraldine Hollett who has a striking voice - crystal clear and self-assured, but not over-powering; and a number of the tracks feature tremendous close harmonies from all three band members. The playing is by multi-instrumentalists Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale (no less than 12 different instruments played between them!), plus guest musicians. Several of the songs have a Celtic influence, and the band have the knack of making contemporary songs sound traditional, and traditional songs sound (slightly) contemporary.
On paper, this is a semi-acoustic album, but the non-acoustic instruments (electric guitar, electric bass and organ) are played sparingly as background accompaniment - this, together with 3 songs performed without the playing of any instruments at all, lends the album a strong acoustic character. Acoustic guitar, mandolin and bouzouki are featured most prominently - with violin, banjo and accordion introduced on selected songs. Rhythms are provided by drums/percussion/bodhran, acoustic guitar, bass and tambourine (and .... suitcase?!).
Although there are 12 tracks on the album, there are 14 songs because one track is an instrumental medley. 8 songs are by contemporary writers - including Leonard Cohen (2 songs), Tom Waits, Amelia Curran and Dave Cousins; the remainder are traditional English and Gaelic folk songs arranged by the band. 2 songs are sung a cappella with lead vocals and harmonies, 1 song is an a cappella solo by Geraldine, and 1 song is 'semi-a cappella' (lead vocals/harmonies supported by percussion). There's a good range of tempos with many songs having memorable lilting melodies of the 'traditional folksy' kind. I liked all of the songs and it's difficult to choose favourites, but 'Sail Away to the Sea', 'Maid on the Shore', 'Three Fishers', 'The Deserter', 'The Briar and the Rose' and 'Anthem' would definitely be amongst them.
Some may find the vocal styles of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen an acquired taste, but don't let this deter you from checking out this album - they are both fine song-writers and The Once interpret their songs in a manner which is fully consistent with the music on the rest of the album. If you like the kind of music from artists such as The Wailin' Jennys or Cara Dillon, then you should definitely give 'The Once' a listen - this is one of the most enjoyable folk albums that I've heard in recent years.