Sometimes less is more. This album of gentle, thoughtful, open minded and honest music proves the theory. You might well have expected Belinda and Heidi to have reached for higher things following on from their undoubted and deserved boost in popularity since becoming involved with the BBC series ‘Gentleman Jack.’ Many would have, they’d have made a ‘statement’ record with production aimed at the mainstream and sessions loaded with heavyweight names, it’s been done before – regardless of musical genre – and quite a few have been left with egg on their faces. O’Hooley and Tidow have never showed the slightest inclination that they’d leave their roots or that they’d ever do anything that wasn’t authentic.
So, ‘Cloudheads,’ shows the pair have channelled much of their energies into producing songs which though presented in a supposedly straight forward manner pack an effective punch and work splendidly on different levels. You have to remember that when writing this duo deal heavily in experience, belief and hope, there is a lot of personal in their personality and a lot of care in their songs. The path of life and all its joys as well as its trials lie behind numbers like ‘ Little Crumb’ ‘Worn Out And Full Of Wonder’- parenthood, ‘Cloudheads’ – acknowledgement of autism, ‘Chimneys, Moors & Me,’ – landscape, ‘ Woman In Space – fairness and equality, ‘ Polly’ ‘The Ballad Of Anne & Ann,’ – historical women of note, the former Jack the Ripper’s initial victim and the latter a reflection on two characters from ‘Gentleman Jack.’
Lyrically there is a deal of craft and contemplation, the words of ‘ Polly’ are short, even brutal but totally in keeping with the arrangement, between the two the track paints a picture in your mind, it may not be an attractive one but then Jack The Ripper wasn’t excatly subtle. If that’s too harsh then try the tender ‘Matthew & Ted,’ which chronicles the relationship between a dog and his owner, the bond runs deep, each relying on the other. Many are going to flag up ‘ The Ballad Of Anne & Ann’ as its links with ‘Gentleman Jack’ are going to earn loads of airtime, the presence of Suranne Jones will also be noted and perhaps not unsurprisingly it’s the single. However, my pick here is the brilliant ‘Chimneys, Moors & Me’ a better expression of northern stoicism and determination you’d be hard pushed to find, sample “Water, grit blood and dirt, we’re the proudest folk on earth/ Pennines pushing through our veins bringing us home again.”
Excellent support throughout from a handpicked crew includes some great guitar work from Katie Spencer and Jude Abbott’s brass is equally fitting, perhaps it’s unfair of me to name just those two when all do a sterling job. Mixing and general technical duties earn a thumbs up for Neil Ferguson whilst Lucy Hanson’s cover art is totally fitting, you need to scan it very carefully to note the subtleties.
A long time ago Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow decided to be themselves and do what they do, no concessions and no deviations. They’re doing it still. ‘Cloudheads’ proves they were totally justified. This album is a small parcel of wonder.