I’ve been vaguely aware of Nancy Elizabeth for a while, but never got round to properly listening to her until very recently, when I received a copy of her current single Hey Son. The name rang a bell. Then I realised that I’d first heard of her as Nancy Elizabeth Cunliffe, a singer-songwriter from up north somewhere. It seems that for the release of her new singles and album this year, she’s dropped her surname, on the grounds that it’s too much of a mouthful and no-one outside of Wigan (her home town) can pronounce her name properly (so it’s not pronounced ‘cun-lif’ then?).
Whatever she’s called, then or now, she makes some pretty damn fine music. Her debut was a mini-album called The Wheel Turning King, which came out on Timbreland records last year. It’s six tracks of beautiful stripped down acoustic folk, apparently recorded in an old church in just two late night sessions, which sees Nancy accompanied by Celtic harp, Thai kim, violin and minimal percussion as well as acoustic guitar. Her voice reminds me a bit of Beth Orton, but I reckon her songs are better. Marissa Nadler might be a closer comparison musically.
If this mini-album is good, the new single takes it to another level. Lead track Hey Son is just fantastic, with its dense acoustic build-up through which Nancy’s lovely voice shines through. The b-side Live by the Sea is almost as good – nicely haunting with droning harmonium to set the mood. If this is a taster for her new album Battle and Victory (this time recorded in a stone cottage in Wales), it will be a magnificent thing indeed.
Download: Nancy Elizabeth – Hey Son
Download: Nancy Elizabeth Cunliffe – Place to Shelter
Battle and Victory is out on The Leaf Label in September. Pre-order here.