As you approach Headington Hill on St Clements, a strip of grassland divides London Place from the roadside. It’s an unremarkable scene, easily missed, and appears to be nothing more than a decorative afterthought to the area. It comes as a surprise, then, to learn that this little stretch is actually all that remains of Harpsichord Row. Demolished in 1929, and with only the barest of mentions in subsequent local histories, the site is a relic of another time – a palimpsest of East Oxford’s past – and it is from this patch of land that the debut album of Bethany Weimers takes its name.
Just how far this place’s influence seeped into the record’s creation is something only she will know. It’s not difficult, however, to follow an atmospheric thread from beginning to end suggesting it pervades the entirety. This makes for a captivating listen and seems to evoke the interweaving of past and present lives that places like Harpsichord Row embody.
Weimers’ voice plays an enormous part in developing the tone. It’s assertive but tender, both powerful and nuanced, and it blends these qualities beautifully. ‘To The Land’ and ‘Desire’ are two entrancing numbers where that vocal mixture seems to weave a spell as it surges and dives around the guitar picking. Such instances are startling and would stand alone on other albums, far above the rest of the material. Thrillingly, that isn’t the case here. When not enthralling us with this stripped down elegance, it’s the straightforward impact of some great songwriting that’s most prominent. ‘William and His Ghost’, particularly, is a number that proves difficult to forget as verse and chorus both pull their weight in constructing an infectious and thoughtful song.
There’s a distinctive flavour to the lyrics, too. Weimers could probably sing about the most frivolous of things and produce a fairly profound-sounding result. As it is, we’re indulged with the biggest subjects; time’s passage, our yearning for a life not our own and the inescapable influence of the past on the present.
It’s this last theme that provides a clue to the success of Harpsichord Row. The modest slice of land lending its name to the record is the site of a daily fusion between past and present, and it’s something akin to this that Weimers has achieved here. Variations in vocal character merge together seamlessly while laments sit in peace alongside toe-tapping melodies and the result is brilliant. Ethereal and enchanting, it heralds the arrival of a gorgeous debut album from an exciting new talent.