A fresh, fragile out-folk take on the poetry of Edna St. Vincent-Millay? That’s something I didn’t even know I was missing. Yet Brighton, England, musician Caroline Weeks has made the Pulitzer Prize-winning American wordsmith’s verse the stuff of longing and beauty on her spring release and solo debut, Songs for Edna (Manimal).
Weeks is perhaps best known as a full-fledged, full-time member of Bat for Lashes. With Songs -- which she recorded between breaks from the band in 2007 and ‘08, she gently casts aside her BFL keyboard duties to put St. Vincent-Millay’s poems to music, accompanying herself on three-quarter-sized Spanish guitar. Weeks plays Hemlock Tavern on Tuesday, Aug. 11.
The latest in a long line of musicians that included the 15-piece, 1920s-era Weeks Brass Band, the multi-instrumentalist applies transformative powers to works like “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed” and “Renascence,” poems that are perhaps familiar to English majors and likely a revelation to adherents of the hip, Los Angeles-based Manimal imprint. Weeks’ spare musical arrangements serve to highlight a genuinely sweet warble and her inspiration’s dark-edged poetry.
Sure yet sensitive fingerpicking and Weeks’ so-called secret guitar tuning yield such dulcet, shadowy treatments as “The Return,” which finds the singer sighing and cooing with the lightest, airiest manly accompaniment, and “Pity Me Not,” which sounds as if Weeks recorded her plainspoken vocals in a well-tiled cell. As the most haunting woodwinds and then spell-breaking chimes enter the picture on an “Elegy,” a number that harks clearly back to the storied English folk tradition, one comes to understand that predecessors like Joni Mitchell, Nico, and Vashti Bunyan would never pity Weeks. Instead they’d recognize her as a true sister in song.