Julie Abbé: Out of the Ashes review – a beautiful expression of the grieving process

The UK-based French folk singer embellishes her trad leanings with sultry blues and upbeat swing on a poignant and poetic second album

Her 2020 debut, Numberless Dreams, introduced Bristol-based French singer Julie Abbé as an artist steeped in Irish and English folk with a telling way with WB Yeats poems. The album closed with Yeats’s celebrated line: “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” Someone has clearly trampled over Abbé’s since. She frames this second outing as “a full cycle of love, celebrating the beauty of what once was, and honouring the different stages of grieving and healing”. It sounds heavy going, yet opener Lanternes d’Or is a slinky blues that evokes a postwar Parisian cafe, brightly sung and artfully accompanied by a small group in which clarinet and guitar shine.

It proves a lodestar for a song cycle in French and English that is by turns sad, sultry and philosophical, its lyrics locating grief, anger and joy in precise but poetic language. Abbé is a tender, expressive singer – on a brace of tracks she dispenses with lyrics to croon and fly wordlessly – while her quartet, led by guitarist and producer James Grunwell, shift easily between folk, swing, jazz and Abbé’s own Poitou bal tradition. She is well known in West Country folk circles, with a place at Glastonbury’s opening ceremony, but this is a lovely reinvention. Formidable!

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