What does Jemima Thewes sound like?
Scottish Highland roots meet tuned percussion from every corner of the globe.
The review of Jemima Thewes – Calling
Sometimes you wear your roots on your sleeve. Jemima Thewes grew up in the highlands of Scotland and her love of traditional music shines through in every song. Mixing together a vast array of tuned percussion, fiddles, organic drums and a highland folklore edge to the vocals and lyrics, “Calling” is a wild ride.
Jemima says the theme behind the album is tragicomedy. She is inspired by the types of folklore tales where you gleeful sing about ironic deaths and lightbulb moments just before something terrible happens. This idea pops out time and again across the album lyrically and is often heard in the musical make-up of the album. For instance “Death The Lady” bounces between light and bouncy wooden xylophone-styled plonks and then drum kits and fiddles as we sing about pleading for a few more years of life. You’d be forgiven that we’d turned up for a bustling barn jig at times but the mood is that of a wink and a pint.
“Water” opens the album with two minutes of increasing water from a trickle to waterfall before transitioning to shaky Hawaiian-inspired marimba, fiddles and possibly shruti box. “Avril 14th” is a curious tuned percussion and plucked string ditty like a tiny mouse scurrying around your speakers cutely. The title track merges together the deep tuned percussion with the Scottish highlight acoustic folk world and it is here where Jemima Thawes really strikes her own identity.
Throughout the album, she has Hidden Orchestra’s Tim Lane as a backbone to many of her songs. Tim has access to tongue drums and a variety of worldly tuned percussion. He is mining his instrument collection for this album and I am here for it! So is Jemima Thewes. She ensures her music is constantly transitioning in volume and intensity. “Small Wild” has beautiful fiddle and vocal grooves underpinned by a trickle of tongue drum but then in the big folk band moments, the dynamic way the tongue drum takes charge of the main melody and little else is required is inspired. It shows conviction and confidence in Jemima’s songwriting. She builds folk music around tuned percussion first and then adds guitars, fiddles, strings, jews harps and mandolin as musical flair rather than the main event. It might sound a bit of a weird distinction but no one else except perhaps Peter Ulrich seems to take this approach.
That being said, Jemima still touches on some more traditional, or wilder music too. “Borders” is like an early lost Loreena McKennitt number. “Elie Sands” is a stunning ballad that showcases everything fragile and mystical about the album in one track perfectly. “Moon” takes that fragility and twists it into a more gothic sound. On the flipside “Devil on the Dancefloor” is a total anomaly compared to everything else on the album but it’s a stunning track. Imagine a deep cowboy trailblazer dustbowl track you’d expect from Chelsea Wolfe in her acoustic albums. Then add some crazy percussion delivery, wild jews harp and some superb witchy vocals and you have an instant dark folk classic. The other big outlier that deserves love is “Hidden Tracks”. It’s a nine-minute bonus track almost entirely acapella after you hear a song sped up like a chipmunk. The backing vocals are a simple ooh motif but the gospel rootsy crossover makes it feel unique and powerful.
If I were to be slightly critical, some tracks may be slightly longer than their often simple motifs should carry them for. What saves Jemima Thewes from outstaying any welcome though is that constantly changing intensity. Whether it’s the tuned percussion, the fiddles, the voice, or the mood – there is a rootsy and organic ebb and flow to every song. Jemima makes the album feel like a journey and the whole album is elevated because of it. “Calling” also really works as a body of work too, something artists making a debut in 2022 often misfire on. Instead, this album feels rustic and homely. It is of land and sea. It feels Scottish but with other global influences mixed in and it stands uniquely in its overarching sound. A wonderful addition to the music world.
Recommended track: Elie Sands
Support Higher Plain Music
Higher Plain Music is part of the Higher Plain Network – a one-man indie media project. If you like what I do, please consider supporting me via Patreon for as little as $1/£1 a month. In return, you’ll receive additional perks for supporting me, such as behind-the-scenes content and free downloads. You can also donate using PayPal. Sharing the website helps too or using the affiliate buy now links on reviews. I receive a few pence per Amazon sale. All your support will enable me to produce better content, more often. I’d love to make this a full-time media network and your support can make that happen. Thank you.