Whether as one half of House and Land alongside Sarah Louise Henson, working with Appalachian old-time revivalists Black Twig Pickers, or on her various solo albums, multi-instrumentalist Sally Anne Morgan suffuses the tenets of musical traditionalism with her own spin. While obviously reverential to the lineage, there’s always been a sense that she’s happiest tampering with the canon, flying the flag for folk music’s recharged relevancy via shrewd mutation. Her latest collection, Cups, is no exception. In stark contrast to the effervescent and almost pop-tinged adventures found on 2020’s Thread, here she whittles down her back-porch fiddle-tunes to their barest fragmented bones.
The gentle ebb-and-flow of tentatively bowed strings and luminous glockenspiel entwine on the engaging opening cut, “Night Window,” setting out Morgan’s minimalist stall for much of what follows. On “Hori Hori,” for instance, reinvigorated remnants of 1960s British acid-folk, reshaped and stringently pared back, gather like lost sketches from The Wicker Man soundtrack before the momentum finally builds via arpeggiated bouts of taut banjo and rippling acoustic guitar. Elsewhere, tracks verge on skeletal transpositions of the deep raga rituals of Virginian drone-masters Pelt, themselves long-term Morgan associates. Handbells, tambura, and the distinctive ligneous croak of a wooden frog coalesce into an entrancing bucolic séance, a quasi-supernatural communique transmitting deeply appreciable deistic beauty.
The album will come to digital services this Friday, but that Cups had its first release on cassette only, back in October, feels entirely appropriate for what, on the surface at least, seems like an off-the-cuff series of enigmatic blueprints for the next phase in Morgan’s ongoing evolution. The format lends itself to this capturing of potential work-in-progress moments. But that is not to sell Cups in any way short. This is a totally charming album that bares the unspoiled essence of its creator, a thoroughly engaging artist forging her own singular path upon the resilient precepts of the past.