The Cornshed Sisters - Tell Tales

A collection of disparate, homespun songs.

Label: Memphis Industries

Rating: 6

This Tyne and Wear harmony-led four-piece let their voices do the talking. If that seems confusingly self-explanatory, listening to ‘Tommy’ should help to explain - the arresting effect of stark, intertwined a capella vocals is one that never loses its effect. Unfortunately, that’s also part of the problem on their debut album.

‘Tell Tales’ is made up of a collection of disparate, homespun songs – sometimes backed by shades of anthemic piano, sometimes by the tripping elegance of a fingerpicked guitar, but always drawn together by the collective beauty of the group’s vocals. Whether within the carefree jazz-pop of ‘Dance At My Wedding’ or the handclap-assisted old(e) English folk of ‘Pies For The Fair’ it’s those vocals that hold the attention. Jennie, Cath, Liz and Marie (it’s only fair to namecheck each, given that each one takes the lead at some point) no doubt deserve the focus – they do truly make a beautiful noise together.

That said, vocals can’t account for everything and, in an album so marked by its makers’ laryngeal input, it seems as though the rest got a little neglected. Clumsy lyrics abound (“If bombs were love then you could call me Dresden” is a particular low point, cover version or not) and, despite a dry sense of humour lying at the core of several songs, lines like “good job on the gravy,” sung in fluttering harmony, end up sounding a little too whimsical set against the often stolid instrumentation present. These distinctly derivative takes on folk-pop – a little Joanna Newsom (without the “what the fuck will she do next?” intrigue) here, a little Simon & Garfunkel there – result in ‘Tell Tales’ losing the impact it could easily have had with a little invention lying behind the vocals too.

It seems as though The Cornshed Sisters could have learned a little from their contemporaries. Mountain Man did so much more with a similar idea a few years ago, and fellow North-Easterners The Futureheads have been doing interesting things with four-part harmonies for years now. Even the album’s producer, Field Music’s Peter Brewis, used his band’s collective voice boxes to peculiar effect this year. As it stands, there’s no doubt that the songs these spiritual sisters sing are lovely, but it’s their songwriting that remains lacking.