CINDER Well, multi-instrumentalist Amelia Baker’s experimental American roots project, will play The Band Room, at Low Mill, Farndale, on the North York Moors, on September 23.
Nigel Burnham’s typically intriguing latest signing released her latest album, the mysterious Cadence, on April 21 on Washington DC’s independent label Free Dirt Records.
Cadence drifts between two far-flung seas: the hazy California coast where Baker grew up and the wind-torn swells of County Clare, western Ireland, that she has come to love. The title refers to the cycles of our turbulent lives, to the uncertain tides that push us forward and back.
Recorded not far from the Venice Beach Boardwalk in Los Angeles, the new songs search for a sense of grounding and a feeling of home.
Although California’s beaches are the backdrop, Irish influences emerge too, after Baker gained a Master’s Degree in Irish Traditional Music Performance from the University of Limerick, where she studied with masters of the tradition, including Siobhan Peoples and Martin Hayes, and settled in County Clare, her adopted new home.
The folklore of the old ways still looms in her mind, tinged with the growth that comes from a return to roots.
On Cadence, Baker expands Cinder Well’s sound to take in percussion, trance electric guitar and lush string parts, courtesy of Lankum’s Cormac MacDiarmada.
Traces remain of Cinder Well’s doom folk, but Cadence balances heavy lyrics with a more expansive sound that recalls Los Angeles’ mythical Laurel Canyon years.
“So much of my music has been made far from home,” says Baker on her website, cinderwellmusic.com. “There was something about recording in California that felt cathartic.”
Caught between two worlds, Cadence recaptures the rhythms of life after a time of deep isolation, seeking balance amid uncertainty, reclaiming creativity post-personal strife.
Cinder Well’s previous album, No Summer, one of the Guardian’s ten best folk albums of 2020, was a love letter to County Clare. However, as the pandemic cut her off from the United States, with a long stretch of intense quarantine, she knew it was time to return home.
Travelling back to her hometown on the central coast of California, she took the time and space to hone a creativity blunted by isolation. Natural imagery, always a key source of inspiration for Cinder Well’s songwriting, appears again in songs full of moonlit caves, edgy cliffs, dark purple sunsets, birds and shadows.
Plants growing out of cracks in rocks in the song Well On Fire symbolise resilience, and the cold Atlantic wind in Gone The Holding embodies the hardness of consequence.
“These songs have a feeling of being lost in the woods, but writing from that place,” Baker says. “They were written in a process of getting unstuck.”
While reconnecting with home and the sea, and resurrecting her childhood interest in surfing, Baker set about song-writing more deeply, determined to break through the creative block she felt.
She experimented with electric guitar and worked on new tunings inspired by English folk guitarist Nic Jones, adapting the music to her own voice using down-tuned instruments.
She pored over New Age classic The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity, American author Julia Cameron’s 1992 self-help book, leading her to write Overgrown, her first song in a decade in a major key.
A chance connection with Venice Beach recording engineer Harlan Steinberger’s Hen House Studios provided the perfect opportunity to record in Los Angeles, a place where Baker had always dreamed of making an album.
In another moment of serendipity, old high school friend Phillip Rogers joined Baker on drums and collaborated on arrangements. Bassist Neal Heppleston and violist Jake Falby contributed too, along with Cormac MacDiarmada.
Heavy yet hopeful, Cadence moves beyond the minimalism of No Summer, being more expansive, brighter coloured, with higher peaks, perhaps a reflection of the world outside the studio.
“It’s so wild,” says Baker. “You’re in the quiet sanctuary of the studio behind thick wooden doors, then you walk outside and it’s the chaos of Venice Beach.”
Driving down the coast along the scenic Highway 1, Baker sang along to Joni Mitchell’s Court And Spark to warm up for the recording sessions, then settled into a calming space that allowed her to explore new directions.
The feeling of being suspended between two worlds is woven through Cadence. “I was continuously trying to reconcile having homes in two places,” says Baker. “I was trying to hold both of those parts of me.”
Splitting her time between the West Coasts of Ireland and California, she concludes: “The ocean is my homebase, no matter where I am.”
Cinder Well play Leeds Brudenell Social Club, September 19, 8pm; The Greystones, Sheffield, September 20, 8pm; The Band Room, Low Mill, Farndale, September 23, 7.30pm. Box office: Leeds, brudenellsocialclub.co.uk; Sheffield, mygreystones.co.uk; Low Mill, thebandroom.co.uk.
Did you know?
CINDER Well’s Amelia Baker teaches fiddle, guitar and songwriting lessons.