As anyone who has ever come across my writing knows, rarely do I stand up and pay attention to emerging artists, which is perhaps to my discredit. Whether interviewing Carly Simon for the Evening Standard or Janis Ian and Phoebe Snow for What's On In London, I find that the really engrossing music, stories and people come from the time when the singer/songwriter was a relatively new idea. So I'm surprised to find myself wooed by one of the most interesting albums to appear in recent months, years even. The Widowed Earth by Dos Floris (the brainchild of London-born, Italy-based multi-instrumentalist/singer/composer Florence Donovan - no relation, by the way) is a near-hour of beautifully recorded electronic-acoustic reveries, a bravura one-woman show; spirited, appropriately florid in parts and with a balm-like, healing effect for the listener. It is out now on the independent Dynamik label, having been featured prominently in several 'best of 2015' critical round-ups.
The album gets under way with 'Rivers'. A leitmotif is played, first on flute, evoking the meandering shape and movement of water, and it becomes apparent just how thoughtful and meticulously constructed this music is. The song comes on like an ancient folk incantation with an electronic gloss, summoning the listener to a timeless and mystical world. It conjures an atmosphere both spectral and yet very much of flesh. It also introduces Dos Floris's smooth and unpretentious singing voice, which is seductive without ever resorting to cheap coquetry. It is a charming instrument, at times soft and siren-like, at others bracing and stentorian. Since some of the songs are built around modal ideas of music, predictable, western chord progressions are largely avoided. Anyone with more than a passing interest in alt. folk heroines like Linda Perhacs and Vashti Bunyan will be won over, as will those who enjoyed Alison Moyet's triumphant return to electronic music, The Minutes.
The diversity of influences apparent on The Widowed Earth is remarkable - I hear everything from choral music to industrial, folk, pop, rock, techno, chill-out, ambient and more. Every single note is composed, played and produced by the artist, as she employs the themes of nature and the elements to tell a story of her own emergence from anguish and torment. A chanteuse exploring themes of personal development using natural metaphors runs the risk of coming across as fey and too precious for words and it is to Dos Floris's credit that she never veers into facile whimsy. Her pieces, as much sound sculptures as they are songs, invite listeners to come half way and meet her, instead of simply pandering to them. Along the way, she frequently abandons conventional song structure, favouring a discursive technique in which to wrap her meditative tales. Stand-outs include 'All The Kings Horses' and the dreamlike (but not somnolent) 'The Other Side'.
The Widowed Earth is clearly the work of someone with an abiding love of the album format, made to be listened to as a whole, rather than as a series of singles plus filler. In the age of the short attention span, it throws down the gauntlet in an unapologetic manner, with songs tracing a woman's journey to self-acceptance as she traverses the rocky outcrops of both her inner and outer landscapes and comes home to tell us about it. A final point worth noting; that most taste-making of music outlets, Rough Trade, has got behind the album, carrying it at both its Notting Hill branch and others.
Dos Floris will be performing live in London, in November 2016.
The Widowed Earth is available on CD at Bandcamp, Rough Trade and Disco D'oro or Digital Download at iTunes and CD Baby. The album is available for streaming at Deezer, Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal.