Sing It For A Lifetime is Heidi Talbot‘s first album since her divorce from her husband of 11 years, the folk musician and producer John McCusker. Understandably, there are a fair few numbers here reflecting on events, the past and the future.
The album was recorded in a soundproofed room while the house sale was going through; it’s produced by the musician, composer, producer and writer Dirk Powell, who had played on her solo debut and who contributes assorted instruments this time around. Playing guitar and baritone ukulele, Sing It For A Lifetime finds Heidi returning to her early roots in country music, tempered with the Celtic folk colours that have permeated over the years.
The album opens with the light, fiddle-fluttering descending notes of the title track, with her two daughters on backing vocals. It’s an uplifting song of hope and release (“A songbird yet to sing/I hear a tune that’s rising towards the heavens/I have to let it ring/It’s lifting building boiling in me”) as she declares, “I know that it’s the right time”.
The mood shifts with the first of five covers, beginning with Leonard Cohen’s exquisitely sad slow waltz reflection on loss and past partings Famous Blue Raincoat.
There are two country covers, Willie Nelson’s 1989 number There You Are, the synths on the original replaced by Mark Knopfler’s gently aching ruminative guitar. The other is a fiddle flourished knockout take on Dolly Parton’s emancipatory moving-on song When Possession Gets Too Strong (“You may give me love like I have never known / But if you try to control me then you won’t never know me”).
Elsewhere, Bob Marley’s She’s Gone is reimagined as stripped back Americana. With a barely-there guitar line behind her soft vocals, the song gathers in body as it builds. The other cover is a song by Rhiannon Giddens and Powell. With Guy Fletcher providing the organ alongside Powell’s folksy fiddle, Wandering Roads is about new beginnings ( “On the day your journey’s done, before a new one has begun/What will you be thinking of, what you owned or who you loved?”) and self-belief (“You know that girl you have inside/Tell her she doesn’t have to hide/Take her hand and let her lead/She’ll bring you all you’ll ever need”). Powell also contributes to new songs, the first on which he and Talbot duet and Knopfler plays resonator guitar is Empty Promise Land. This song captures the sorrowful acceptance of the end of a relationship recalled in an old diary (“But we can’t go back/To where we started from/And I know we can face what we’ve become/That bright eyed girl/With the world at her fingertips/That quiet boy whose secrets never crossed his lips/Let them walk away/Going hand in hand”).
Also written for the album is Boo Hewerdine’s slow swaying, retro-tinted Let Your Eyes Get Used To The Dark. It’s a particular album highlight with Talbot’s gorgeous vocals delivering the lyrics about adjusting your perspectives to a new life and seeing things fall into place (“What you thought were shadows/You’ll soon come to see/In the glow of a morning star/Are the dreams of how your life should be”).
Returning to self-penned material, the open letter I Let You Go is piercingly personal (“I’m not jealous anymore/I see the things I did wrong/And I see the things you did right/I’m sorry that I let it carry on..I let you go, you let me down …I walk away with two hands in mine – their eyes tell me we’ll be fine”), the pain mirrored by the two violins, viola and cello. The lyrics were written in Edinburgh, with Powell composing the elegiac piano backing in Louisiana. The other self-penned number is Broken Mirror with its muted drum falls and again speaks of finding new hope inside as she sings, “I don’t believe I was to blame/In this soulless losing game”, reminding herself, “don’t forget to smile”,
It ends with a final contribution from Knopfler; the simply arranged Bring Me Home, penned by Powell, rounding the album out on brighter notes of guitar and strings and a hymn of both being lost and a hope for peace (“I’ve been praying for a hidden path to/Bring me home bring me home/Bring me home to where I’ve always been/Though I try I can’t remember when/ I was home”).
It may have been born of hurt, pain and confusion, but there’s a strength within its musical veins that can find hope in new paths to be taken and new lifetimes to be sung. As Nietzsche said, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, and, as evidence, this may be the best work of Talbot’s career to date.
Sing It For A Lifetime is released on 20 May 2022. Pre-Order it here.