Allysen Callery's alluring Winter Island

From Bristol to Berlin with love
By CHRIS CONTI  |  June 1, 2011

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DREAMS COMING TRUE Callery.

Folk singer/songwriter Allysen Callery received scores of positive press for her 2010 sophomore disc, Hobgoblin’s Hat (pick it up, along with her ’07 debut Hopey, at iTunes and cdbaby.com). Just in time for summer 2011, Callery released her new EP Winter Island last week on Berlin-based label Woodland Recordings (woodlandrecordings.com), and just returned from her first international tour with performances across Germany and Switzerland. This time around the music is anchored solely by Callery’s voice and her nylon-string guitar picking, and the result is equally engaging.

Winter Island was recorded solo and lo-fi as requested by my label, and I think they would’ve liked it if I recorded in a field alone somewhere!” Callery cracked while plugging a handful of local shows over the next few weeks (check her complete schedule at allysencallerymusic.com). On Hobgoblin’s Hat (hands down one of the best local albums of 2010), Callery’s close friends and occasional touring band, the Land of Nod (Myles Baer and upright bassist Brendan Whipple), chimed in and ramped up the soundscape with ambient, almost psychedelic tweaks swirling around Callery’s vocals (often Celtic-laced whispers with a touch of Moog and reverb), whereas the seven new tracks on Winter Island are straightforward folk lullabies.

“Nod will always be close to my heart, but they’re just so busy with their personal lives, plus I needed to release what I actually sound like live,” Callery noted (she spent the last year on the road as a solo artist).

Callery looked up Woodland Recordings through a UK-based folk radio show. “It’s been a big goal of mine to work with a label and tour in Europe, so I was really psyched,” Callery said, “and I was able to tour with the Great Park, a wonderful solo act also on Woodland, who made it a very charmed trip for me.”

On Winter Island, Callery’s strumming skills (learned on her father’s Martin Classical at age 14 shortly after his passing) are undeniable on the instrumental “Highwire Tightrope” and sails along her breathy cooing on the opening title track. Callery also serves up a cover of “Young Edwin” from Steeleye Span, a benefit of digging through dad’s vinyl collection as a child.

“I grew up listening to a lot of British Isles folk-rock like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, and Pentangle, and it made me kind of the weird kid on ‘bring your record to school day,’ ” she said. “I’d love to do a record of all British Isles covers.”

The angelic voice and subtle delivery harbor some darker lyrical content here. When we first met last year, Callery told me, “With Hobgoblin’s Hat I’m able to explore deeper and darker memories and feelings.” On Winter Island, the two songs that immediately stand out are “Favourite Son” and “One-Eyed Cat.” Callery is armed with scores of old poems to draw from, as well as the occasional floodgate of words and riffs.

“For me, writing is like catching hold of a tiger’s tail,” she said. “I get maybe one line and will need to immediately sit down and write the words. Then they all come at once, line after line. Or, sometimes I’ll just be fooling around on guitar and the song will just flow.”

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