For her Scotsman Session, Edinburgh-based Irish singer-songwriter Heidi Talbot sings I Let You Go, possibly her most intensely personal song yet, taken from her new album, Sing It For A Lifetime. The song, like much of the album, due for release on 20 May, exudes a certain sense of closure, she agrees, considering that she made it during remote real-time recording sessions with musicians on either side of the Atlantic, while looking after her two young daughters and negotiating the sale of her house and her divorce from her husband of 11 years, fiddle-player and producer John McCusker.
I Let You Go, like several songs on the album, grew out of ideas that emerged during her lockdown walks in the surrounding countryside, but the album itself, she suggests, was “forged in a pressure cooker”, recorded as it was in a soundproofed room in the house she was selling. Sing It For A Lifetime, however, also displays a marked shift towards an American country style for Talbot, hitherto regarded as a more traditionally orientated singer on the folk scene here. Following the break with McCusker, who had produced her records over the years, she found herself having to make her own decisions about her music, and decided that she simply couldn’t make the same kind of record as before.
Having spent her early singing career in the United States, where she performed for five years with the Irish-American band Cherish the Ladies, she renewed contact with the widely respected old-time American multi-instrumentalist and producer Dirk Powell, who had worked on two of her early solo albums. “He was a natural choice, and it was great to work with him again,” she says.
However, plans to record with Powell in Louisiana fell through due to Covid restrictions: “I rang him and said, ‘What are we going to do?’ He had booked the studio and the musicians, so we decided that I’d get a great recording engineer here, Cameron Malcolm, to come to my house and we’d make a studio and record on the same days that Dirk was recording in the States. Overnight we’d send our files and in the morning we’d get their files and feedback and work like that, as if we were actually in the studio together.”
Malcolm, she laughs, “basically converted my living room into a cave of melamine foam.” Meanwhile, she and Powell had enlisted some high-powered names, who contributed their accompaniments from their various locations, including former Dire Straits guitar hero Mark Knopfler and keyboard player Guy Fletcher in London, singer Amelia Powell and drummer Bill Smith in the US and, in Scotland, singer-songwriter Adam Holmes and jazz-classical violinist Seonaid Aitken.
For her Scotsman Session, however, Talbot’s distinctively plaintive voice is accompanied in scaled-down mode, by the busy Scottish folk guitarist Innes White, with whom she played during the recent Shetland Folk Festival. “I let you go. You let me down,” she sings, and you get a certain sense of catharsis as well as resolution, as she moves on.
For more on Heidi Talbot, visit https://heiditalbot.com/