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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sally Oldfield

posted by on May 22 at 13:07 PM

Sally Oldfield is the sister of multi-instrumentalist and mega-star Mike Oldfield (he of Tubular bells fame).

She started her musical life in a group with her brother called Sallyangie. Together they released a single acid folk album on the Transatlantic label in 1968. It is esentially an album of fairytale thoughts and dreams of a young teenage girl. It should be noted that Mike was roughly 16 when the album was released. It’s gained some favor recently with the whole freak-folk genre explosion, because of it’s trippy lyrics and even trippier vocal delivery from Sally.

Her vocal tremelo, along the lines of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s, is pretty intense at times, though her delivery is less strident and more willowy. The two of them were pretty big fans and occasional friends of Pentangle, hence the recruitment of Terry Cox on some rhythm elements throught the album. Outside that most of the album is performed solely by Sally and Mike.

The duo split due to artistic differences, most likely Sally wanted to keep writing and singing hippy inspired medieval folk, while Mike, obviously, wanted to use his talents for more intriguing music in the prog realm. For whatever reason it took Sally until 1975 to hook up with Mike again on his solo album Ommadawn.

In 1978 Sally finally came out with her first solo project, Water Bearer. I’m so glad she took the time, because the album starts off a trilogy of work for her that is absolutely stunning. Fitting nicely within the categories of Folk, Prog and possibly even proto-New Age.

Water Bearer really sounds nothing like anything else of its’ time, with the exception of some of Mike’s work. The songs are fairly straighforward, but take odd angular turns at times that bring drama to them that they might not otherwise have. Sally being quite the talented multi instrumentalist herself seemed to think that using guitars too much in the mix would peg her as more of a straight forward folk singer. So those are brushed aside to make room for lots of stacatto piano and tuned percussion instrumentation. This is what makes these albums so startling and original. Sally sings the melody with her sweet, tremulous soprano voice, while the harmonies are played using lots of marimba, glockenspiel, xylophone and bells. A song my be in a slow 4/4 signature, but the instrumentations of this chords ringing out in a stacatto arpeggiations give the music such great life and urgency. Sally’s biggest hit, Mirrors, is from this album.

This was the pattern she followed on her next album, Easy, also. Where Water Bearer is a little more mystical, Easy shows Sally to be relaxed and comfortable in the new genre of minimalist symphonic folk she created.

The album is full of breezy love songs, with some romantacism of the gypsy life-style thrown in for good measure, this album is even more minimalist sounding then it’s predecessor, with sharp lines played out on the percussion and Sally’s breezy lyrics and delivery. It’s like Philip Glass or Steve Reich wrote a folk album.

Her third album in this tight trilogy of work was 1980’s Celebration.

Celebration shows Sally much more relaxed in this style then either of the former albums. She adds back in some nice electric piano, even a Fender Rhodes makes an appearance, and she gets some help on a light reggae title track from the group Aswad. She includes nice long numbers that go off on little tangents and turns like the great track, Blue Water.

For some reason, all three of these albums were very popular in Germany where Sally remains a big star (Germans love their Glockenspiels!). In fact, all three of my albums are German imports(?!) on the Bronze label. Bronze was a label started by members of bands formerly on Vertigo Records.

If you’re looking for where artist like Kate Bush got her inspiration, look no further. Sally’s soprano can jump octaves in the blink of an eye and come down again just as fast. Kate used these same stylings on her first two albums to great success.

Sally still performs and has released a few albums after these. She has recently turned herself into a bit of a New Age guru, releasing self-help cd’s and hypnotherapy visualisations programs. Added to that she apparently does some on-line consultations as a healer, hypnotherapist (still pondering how you do that on-line) nutritionist and councellor.

I try to forget all that nonsense when I listen to her music and just get into how strange and otherworldly some of her stuff sounds. I think it was ahead of it’s time then and, even now, it sounds like nothing else you’ll here in this vein.

As usual, samples can be found at my blog, here.

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Dear Terry,

On your longer posts, why not do the extended entry option for continued reading? I love em but give me the option to click to read more.

Posted by readerreader | May 22, 2007 1:12 PM

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