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Maddie Morris - Skin (No Masters Co-operative Ltd)

23 February 2024

All music has to move with the times, but the art of such evolution is to do so and still stay in touch with your past. Evolution not revolution, as the saying goes. Folk music, perhaps more than any other genre, struggles with this; so deep-rooted are those traditions, and so heavily guarded are they by self-appointed gatekeepers. But some artists manage to move the genre forward while appealing to those who favour more progressive sounds as well as those who prefer their folk to be made in recognisable musical moulds. Maddie Morris is not only one of them, but their album, Skin is an essential bridge between past and present.

If you take just the music, you see a brilliant ebb and flow of time, tradition, sound, and style at work. The opening brace of songs, “Marsha P Johnson” and “Cedar Swamp”, give us a modern, understated and resonant taste of folk present, followed by a slice of past roots traditions. But these two songs also lay the stall out brilliantly regarding lyrical content and messaging. The opener is a politically charged story of activism, rights, and protest, fighting for a new, more empathetic, and understanding world. Its successor is a timeless, lilting jig of aspiration but of a more traditional musical style.

And these two songs define what Skin and Maddie Morris are about. For every delicate echo of the past, such as with “Wee Weaver”, there is a one that updates the song of the human condition, such as “The IT Teacher.” For every personal reflection, as the eloquent and elegant “Easily Bruised,” there is a reflective call to arms like “Political T-Shirt.”

Folk music has always been political. It has always been personal. It has always dwelt on tragedy as readily as it hopes for a bright new future. In short, it has always been the music of and for and about the people. Maddie Morris didn’t invent this concept, but Skin is a brilliant reminder and timely update of this fact.