A disclaimer before listening to Ghosts: If you're not careful, loud English folk duo Smoke Fairies will consume you. With their swampy blues riffs, exquisite harmonies, and formidable command of songwriting, Smoke Fairies is truly enchanting. You might not believe that a nine-song collection (billed as “a collection of A-sides, B-sides, and an EP from the recent past”) would have such a mighty power. There's no harm in skepticism. But you'd be wrong.
I'm not the only one who's been thoroughly taken in by Smoke Fairies' many charms. Following last year's release of their EP Frozen Heart, they shared UK tour dates with The Handsome Family and Richard Hawley (formerly of Pulp), and performed at a variety of prominent British music festivals, including Latitude and Glastonbury. They also had the good fortune of opening for Jack White's latest group, The Dead Weather; White has since gone to release a limited edition Smoke Fairies vinyl 7-inch on his label, Third Man Records.
Indeed, Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies have been keeping some good company. That's because good recognizes good, and Smoke Fairies are most decidedly that. Theirs is a dark roiling sound buoyed by their preternaturally beautiful voices. Hints of Fairport Convention, Eliza Carthy, Cowboy Junkies, and Mazzy Star all emerge from these songs.
Their lyrics are full of a simple classic poeticism. Listeners find this exemplified in such songs as “Sunshine” (“red sky descends in the morning/feels like I'm never awake for the warning”) and “Troubles” (“I drew my demons out to the snow ... drawn together like moths to light/never believing we burn so bright”). “When You Grow Old” is also a great example. In it, a woman wonders what lasting impact her love will have on a former lover, and whether he will someday “take a wife.” She then responds to her own wonder in kind with these wise, poignant words: “But people like me/we're not the marrying kind/but who will hold us/when we reach our time?”
Locked in an oppressive summer heat, it came as no small comfort to listen to something so... wintry. You can almost feel the crunch of new snow under your shoes as you trod lightly through each song. There's a compulsion to put on a coat, and then, as the album progresses, to draw it tighter around you.
Be not misled by the chilly description, though. The world within Smoke Fairies' Ghosts is cold, but certainly not stark. Yet if you're looking for an invigorating pick-me-up, Ghosts is right out. That's okay, though. From the second the CD arrived, I found myself transfixed. I've been unable to stop listening to it. This is the musical equivalent of laudanum: reminiscent of a bygone era, potent, drowsy, generating an all-encompassing high–and a highly addictive one at that.