Nancy Elizabeth Battle and Victory

[Leaf/Timbreland; 2007]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: Northern British acoustic folk
Others: Nina Nastasia, Vashti Bunyan, Joanna Newsom

I was in Great Britain this summer, but I didn’t frequent any 17th-century stone cottages in the Welsh countryside, nor did I visit Manchester village halls (I was in rainy Liverpool, though). If I had side-stepped to these locations, I may have been confronted by a band of musicians, led by the fair-voiced Nancy Elizabeth. I would’ve seen them wielding their instrument weapons — khim, Indian harmonium, bouzouki, Appalachian dulcimer, and good old guitar. The image of such a band would’ve been cemented into my travel-weary skull -- and so would have Ms. Elizabeth’s most prominent feature: her Celtic harp. Plucking at the strings of a harp is dangerous territory nowadays, what with Joanna Newsom at the helm, directing the charge of megrim folk. With Newsom’s superior grasp of language and talent of welding words, any comparison would be more insulting and bawdy than the region’s worst limerick (I’m looking at you Brendan Behan).

Nonetheless, Nancy Elizabeth (a name formerly with a “Cunliffe” suffixed) lets her voice soar to a certain extent, echoing something like Dolores O’Riordan from The Cranberries. Ms. Elizabeth, at only 23 years of age, has pinpointed the purity of provincial English landscapes and overcast quarries. She relies on subtlety, quietude, and an immersion in the dreary moment. Unfortunately, many singers and musicians of our day rely on these same instincts. They seem to be easily obtained, judging strictly from a fingers-and-toes tally. Regardless, Nancy Elizabeth has something to share; the only drawback is she might have a difficult time finding fair-weather friends to listen with so many similar counterparts making the rounds. “I feel there’s no use in trying,” she sings on “Battle and Victory,” the album’s title track — and that lyric expresses my sentiment exactly.

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