‘Constellations’ – Meredith Moon

4 stars (out of 5)


Where do we start with this one? It’s not quite a first album, it’s the first album that isn’t self-released and it’s a journey by road, by rail and by water taking us from the point where Meredith learned to play clawhammer banjo from YouTube videos to playing support gigs with a Canadian folk legend last year; this odyssey hasn’t been a straightforward one. She set off with her banjo, hitchhiking between venues with a folk-punk band and booking gigs using traditional music and punk networks across the Americas and Europe. It was an interesting way of honing her craft while providing material for some of the songs featured on ‘Constellations’.

As a self-taught player of traditional Appalachian music, you would expect to hear some traditional influences on the album and you wouldn’t be disappointed. There’s a banjo instrumental ‘Needlecase Medley’ (accompanied by podorhythmie – you can google that one) and the traditional ballad ‘Soldier’s Joy’. Its incongruously uptempo jaunty feel emphasises the pathos of a soldier fighting off the pain of battlefield wounds with opiates and alcohol.

Of the eight originals, unsurprisingly, there’s an instrumental piece, ‘Brokenwing Bird’, which showcases Meredith’s banjo skills. It’s a tour de force with superb playing throughout, style and tempo changes including a rallentando ending to represent the bird fading away. Of the remaining songs, there’s a strong emphasis on travelling; ‘Constellations’ is a hitchhiker’s song about seeing the night sky with a lover, while ‘That Town’ references the town of Wawa in Northern Ontario where hitchhikers often get stranded. ‘Lighthouse County’ and ‘Mark Twain’ are both nautical songs, the latter referencing the pseudonym of Samuel Clements and its original nautical meaning. There are also references to the constellations throughout the song as well. And while we’re on the subject of literary references, ‘Starcrossed’ has a couple of Shakespearean references including the obvious ‘Romeo and Juliet’ one.

‘Constellations’ is a fascinating piece of work. Setting aside the banjo virtuosity, the arrangements are minimal, allowing the songs to impress without too much embellishment. Meredith’s voice is understated throughout and the songs are interlinked by various themes and styles, creating a sense of unity across the album. It took a few listens to get under the skin of this understated piece of work, but it was definitely worthwhile. And what about that Canadian folk legend I mentioned? Meredith has consciously avoided playing on the fact that she’s the daughter of Gordon Lightfoot, preferring to make it on her own merits but the time has come now to open up on that one.

‘Constellations’ is out now in Europe on True North Records (TND807).

Here’s the official video for the song ‘Constellations’:

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