Bella Hardy’s seventh album, With The Dawn, is her first since being awarded the BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer Of The Year award. The songs recorded here have been inspired by events taken from one year of her life. With this album Hardy pushes the boundaries beyond folk, something not dissimilar to another contemporary act, The Unthanks.
Producer Ben Seal has come on board and the result is a departure from her previous recordings. The songs are more intimate but more disparate than before, with unusual beat patterns and other accompaniment offset by Hardy’s ever-consistent vocals. Her lyrics are intelligent and well-written and she shares her inner thoughts with an open sincerity that is impressive.
The album starts with the well-produced The Only Thing To Do, unsurprisingly chosen as a single. Lyrically there’s confusion and turmoil with the conclusion that ‘the only thing to do is love’. Banjo introduces the very melodic First Light Of The Morning, and it’s only after nearly two minutes of instrumental that Hardy enters with the wonderful longing line and title of the song – ‘I wish you were the first light of the morning.’ The Darkening Of The Day is another introspective song despite the upbeat music. ‘All my troubles fly away with the darkening of the day’ is a fine lyric with a nice twist.
Jolly Good Luck To The Girl That Loves A Soldier was commissioned for a World War I remembrance project called Songs For The Voiceless. This is the only song on the album which didn’t come directly from Hardy’s year of experience. At times a number of songs are very sparse before the music enters sporadically and then disappears. You Don’t Have To Change (But You Have To Choose) is a prime example of this as swirling vocal harmonies, percussion and strings come to life rather unexpectedly.
Another Whiskey Song is yet another reference to the demon drink which also appeared on her 2013 album Battleplan. The latest whiskey song is much more discordant and unusual with the opening line ‘My darling really loves me after whiskeys one and three’ a harsh, unexpected statement. The ending is equally brutal ‘My man needs me and just another glass of whiskey’.
There are many such bittersweet elements in the album both lyrically and musically. The title of the last song is another such contrast. And We Begin reads like a new start but she’s still looking for something ‘There’s nothing that I wouldn’t give to start and end my days like this’, a reference to the longing expressed in First Light Of The Morning. This is how it ends and the search for contentment goes on.
Fans of Hardy can expect something a bit different with this album that may not please all of them, but in return for exploring new directions, Hardy is sure to expand her audience.