Heavy laden with lyrics about nature and the trials of life, For The Weary Traveller, is an impressive debut album from a young songwriter who has already turned heads with her unique voice and captivating lyrics.
Holly Arrowsmith burst onto the scene with her EP The River in 2013. A hard working musician, she has racked up an impressive number of performances, including Rhythm and Alps, Rhythm and Vines, a TEDxtalk on ‘Honest Music‘, and perhaps most impressively, opening for Rodriguez, the long-lost folk icon who reappeared after the documentary Searching for Sugar Man.
Born in dusty Santa Fe and raised in mountainous Queenstown, Arrowsmith has had a wide range of picturesque landscape to inspire her.
Before writing For The Weary Traveller, Arrowsmith spent a month holed up in a van with her husband and a guitar. It’s not surprisingly, then, that the songs are almost like those of a wandering minstrel, capturing the breathtaking beauty of the valleys, rivers and mountains, singing of love, desire and discovery.
At just 21, Arrowsmith is no weathered soul, but she is a searcher: “’Seeking meaning’s for the weak’ / Well, you can call me weak” she sings on ‘Voices of Youth’ – an upbeat song, but one with disaffected lyrics about growing older and having to carry the weight of life. On ‘Love Will Be A River’ she sings “I am cracked and flawed, So are you / But these are spaces for the light to come pouring through.”
Arrowsmith retreated to a “grassroots” studio to record the album with producer Steve Roberts and multi-instrumentalist Stu Graham. The result is an album that has a balance of soft solo-like numbers and band ones.
With her unusual phrasing and her unique voice, Arrowsmith’s songs are hauntingly powerful. To me, the strongest songs on the album are those that have moments where they are stripped back to voice and guitar, with a touch of the backing band to add dynamics; the opening of ‘Mouth of the Morning’ and ‘Lady of the Valley’ are eerily beautiful, reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake and Bob Dylan.
That’s not to say the full band detracts from an album that is very strong. Single ‘Desert Owl’ is a standout with its rustic beat and slide guitar complementing the folk-country feel well. With finger picking banjo, double bass and guitar, ‘Canyons’ is a cute song, though the lyrics are again nuanced and suggest weariness from the search for so-called ‘perfect’ love. The ethereal guitar of ‘Lady of the Valley’ gives it a spooky feel, while ‘Mountain Prayer’ begins like a spiritual, before it drifts into folk-rock.
Some of the best songwriting is saved for the end. With its quirky (and somewhat gothic) narrative about being saved by love, ‘The Beast Called Love’ is fun and catchy. The Americana influenced ‘Love Will Be a River’, has an infectious, rollicking feel that builds to a heady crescendo, while the more introspective ‘Flinted’ harks back to ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ by the Byrds, with a longing to know what’s behind the seasons of life.
Holly Arrowsmith is a talented and determined folk artist who is not work-shy. No doubt there will be a long tour to follow. I recommend seeing her live. There’s something about Arrowsmith’s presence that is a different kind of alchemy altogether – in the unusual quality of her delivery and her enchanting voice, which swings between being light and free, before turning into a growl or lilting into a sweet head voice. A hard worker, prone to wanderlust and with time on her side, Arrowsmith is bound to keep moving. Catch her if you can.
To celebrate For The Weary Traveller‘s release, Holly Arrowsmith is playing live at the Tuning Fork on September 5 with special guests Skyscraper Stan and Tom Cunliffe. The album is available on Bandcamp (below) and iTunes.