“I've been travelling, I've been thinking, I've been flying, driving, training,” sings Bella Hardy on the opening track of With The Dawn, her seventh album.
She's been doing other stuff too, in the year that's chronicled by the self-penned songs on this release. Like winning BBC Folk Singer of the Year, and turning 30, a milestone around the neck of any woman. Perhaps the latter is the main driving force behind With The Dawn, for it's not exactly the cheeriest of records. It's not just the subject matter. Producer Ben Seal has created stark accompaniments and uses brass instrumentation in a way that's particularly bleak.
That's not to say that there isn't enjoyment to be had in the listening. Arguably, the best track is the one that's not about Hardy's year on the road. Jolly Good Luck to the Girl Who Loves a Soldier was commissioned by Songs for the Voiceless, a project that told less known stories from World War One. To sum up: If your chap's off to war, it's probably best to get rid before he goes.
Oh! My God! I Miss You! Is a pleasant surprise, despite the unpromising self-explanatory title which sounds as if it was devised by a preppy American cheerleader. Another Whisky Song sees our heroine in more playful mode, fully appreciating the role that alcohol plays in the male dispensing of affection.
You Don't Have to Change (But You Have to Choose) isn't as easy on the ear, with some nut job banging a bloody big drum and atonal background vocals that sound like The Unthanks on smack. If you're going to Hell, and there's a welcoming choir, this is what it will sound like.
But the mood is more optimistic, with Time Wanders On featuring Cara Luft on banjo and vocals, on a song that tells us that the World's quite pretty in places.
With The Dawn isn't an easy listen – it's introspective, revealing and at times desolate. But it may signal a departure for a prolific artist, who until now has relied primarily on traditional folk tales to express herself. Overall, it's something of a triumph.
With The Dawn is released on 30th March 2015 on Noe Records.