Hickory Signals are the Brighton-based duo Laura Ward and Adam Ronchetti (who also form two-fifths of folk collective Bird In The Belly). Having released two very promising EPs in 2014 and 2016, they’re now ready to release their debut full-length album. It presents an intelligent, atmospheric sequence of songs, mostly original compositions but with thematically relevant side excursions into traditional song. Although the duo’s trademark is Laura’s strong voice, often in tandem with her haunting flute playing, those elements by no means upstage Adam’s complementary guitars, banjo and percussion. Credit is also due to album producer Tom Pryor, who plays violin, piano and guitar and is responsible for coordinating some subtly layered string arrangements.
There’s a deliberate unity in the songs chosen for this album, in that they explore different aspects of lives at the margins of society that are frayed at the edges and in the process of “unravelling” due to personal crises. These include figures from real life (poets Rosemary Tonks and Zelda Fitzgerald) and a Kurdish refugee (Kana), as well as scenarios and types familiar from folk song culture (Two Girls). Traditional songs Bushes And Briars and Who Put The Blood focus on women who dare not speak up for themselves, contrasting with the narrator of Frankie Armstrong’s anthem of empowerment Doors To My Mind voiced by Laura in a restrained yet powerful account and given an edgy pulse by Adam’s percussion.
Hickory Signals have consolidated their distinctive sound and approach with this thoughtfully assembled collection of songs.