Nancy Elizabeth is a true musical artist. There are few acts around in 2013 who have mastered the craft of making music like she has. Listening to Dancing, her third album and the one of which she says she is most proud, is like strolling through an exhibition, where the palette subtly changes as the pieces progress, themes and motifs come and go and you relax in the hands of a master at work.
Elizabeth seems to occupy a sphere apart from rest of the music scene. Where many folk luminaries have an affected note to their vocals, Elizabeth’s voice is ingenuous and natural. There’s not a hint of concession to the Americana which seems to influence much of the scene at the moment. Indeed, it’s difficult to place Dancing anywhere. It’s an album born of stillness, of emptiness. The sounds layer up like paint on a page, the silence they are built upon every bit as much a part of the piece as an artist’s canvas.
Take ‘Debt’, which starts out in familiar territory, before sitars and synths are layered in and the whole thing builds to a climax of “come on”s and handclaps before dropping back down to earth again. Or ‘Death In A Sunny Room’, which flowers from a two-and-a-half-minute piano-and-harp intro. ‘Shimmering Song’ dissolves to leave a single voice, singing about the restlessness of romance, while ‘All Mouth’ and ‘Early Sleep’, which closes Dancing, are hypnotic sound installations That said, there are moments of pure folk. ‘Desire’ keeps things simple and would be at home on her last album, Wrought Iron, and opener ‘The Last Battle’ is a perfect gateway track.
Underpinning the whole thing, though, is melody. And this is never more obvious than on singles ‘Heart’ and ‘Simon Says Dance’. ‘Heart’, with its skittering drum beat and sinister air, is sad and inspiring: “The end of my days and I’m so alone. Don’t remember my name or myself, don’t remember his face or even his voice, though I never let love go.” The playful ‘Simon Says Dance’ shows off her wit as a songwriter, beginning: “We may think we’ve not met before but we’ve danced out our lives on a million dancefloors,” before a mesmerizing troupe of dance metaphors takes over.
The dance metaphors are apt: the album’s title arises, Elizabeth has said, from an awareness late at night – when most of it was written – of the passage of time. It’s an awareness, of time moving on and passing by, that pervades the album, giving it darkness and urgency. But it’s hard to imagine how Elizabeth could better have spent her time than constructing this rich and extraordinary album.