Album Review: Lavinia Blackwall – Muggington Lane End

Moving on from a treasured band when you were pivotal to their sound is a difficult manoeuvre in music. Nearly two years after leaving the pioneering psych-folk explorers Trembling Bells, multi-instrumentalist and singer, Lavinia Blackwall has taken that very step and made it look easy. Her debut solo album ‘Muggington Lane End ‘(released on 1st May) is an assured piece of work. Confident and catchy, the record is neither a remake or remodel of previous glories. It just sounds like a very natural progression.
With a new band on board and her partner Marco Rea in the producer’s seat, this record feels warmer and more inviting than the intentional agitation of Trembling Bells music. Of course, Lavinia Blackwall’s exceptional voice remains central to the sound, ringing clear and true in the best Sandy Denny/Maddy Prior tradition. And yes, there is still a kaleidoscope of ideas and a loving brew of folk-rock, psych, prog and sixties pop. But this time around comes a clearer focus on classic songwriting. Basically, the tunes have hooks a plenty and boy do they work!
The album’s opener ‘Nothing Is Wasted’ gives you a strong sense of the journey that you are on with this record. It starts with a graceful waltzing pulse, eases into a more perkily arranged chorus before closing with a full – on burlesque/fairground breakdown of which Tom Waits would be proud. Within the song Blackwall’s sharp lyrics unwind a story of everyday loneliness, despair and hope perfectly. The line ‘the seedless grapes lying are all full of pips’ says it all.
Elsewhere you get a clutch of surprisingly bouncy folk rockers which are as effortlessly toe-tapping as the best power pop. The jaunty ‘Troublemakers’ jangles as it pitches the quirks of village life against the out of towners destined to ‘put another hole in the window’. What gives these songs something extra is the invention and surprises that pop up in the arrangements like the plunging guitar riffs in ‘Ivy Ladder’ or the gorgeous flute interplay in ‘Waiting For Tomorrow’.
One track that has already received its dose of attention (and already, rumour has it, on repeat at Back Seat Mafia’s kitchen-quarters) is ‘John’s Song’. A cautionary story told with affection about a man who ‘always gets it wrong’, the tune skittles along in the best eccentric pop tradition (think Neil Innes or Village Green era Kinks). Any song that checks Asda shopping, Ford Fiestas, venetian blinds and decking must be loved.
Alongside all this action the slower numbers nestle comfortably. ‘All Seems Better’ reflects on ‘telling tales of better pastimes’ with a dreamy almost gothic edge while the stunning piano-led ballad ‘Hold On To Your Love ‘has the emotional sweep of Nick Cave at his most plaintive. Both ‘Keep Warm’, written alongside her partner Rea and ‘The Way That She Laughed’, a tribute to her Grandma and Mum, bring less surprises but their honesty draws you inside. In fact, there are no fillers on the record. It is carefully paced to lead you to the pushing drive and prog dynamics of the epic last track, ‘When Will It All Come To Light’. From the tumbling intro to the closing drifting madrigal, the final instalment to ‘Muggington Lane End’ leaves you hanging in anticipation- daring you to dive in and play the whole album again.

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