Little Red - Sticks And Stones artwork

Little Red: Sticks & Stones

Whilst it might be common practice to rely on first impressions in the arenas of job interviews, speed dating and general elections, we reviewers are supposed to look more closely, to sift the full evidence objectively before drawing a conclusion. Pity, really, because it means that we judge this album by local trio Little Red to be a pleasant bundle of contemporary folk, when our hearts are still alight from the opening track, that made us sit up and take notice like nothing else on the record.

Said tune, ‘What Say You’, is just charming. From a clean finger-picked guitar figure, that has a whiff of the cosy, unflurried ’70s library music style that Trunk Records christened Fuzzy Felt Folk, closely entwined male and female vocals bob on a charming little melody, like a toy boat on a choppy duckpond. It sounds limpidly lovely, but like so many great folk tunes, the jaunty music hides a black heart, the lyrics telling of betrayal, disappointment and visceral knife crime. There is a wonderful moment where the guitar drops out to let the vocals declaim the chorus unaccompanied, that structurally seems to owe more to club bangers than any folk tradition, and in all, the song is a micro-epic, hinting at a full and macabre tale in its 1’48” running time.

It would be unfair to criticise the remaining eight tracks too harshly, but none of them can challenge this jewel of an opener. There are plenty of sweet, sugary harmonies in the vein of Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou, and songs like ‘The Garden’ recall The August List, albeit lacking in the bite that they would bring. ‘Bonnie And Clyde’ typifies the record, a beautifully put together little tune, right enough, but perhaps a touch too smooth, and with a “you and me against the world, babe” theme that is hackneyed and shopworn.

In the future, we’d like them to either build on the wide-angled sounds of ‘Petal’ or ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ and make a giant, unashamed Clannad-meets-Fleetwood-Mac studio confection, or alternatively to strip things down, get some dirt in the gears, and grind out something deeper and darker. For now, this is an assured debut, with plenty to recommend it, but prettiness and poise might not bring out the best in Little Red – we’d like them to be rather less Little, and a much richer, bloodier Red.

Sticks & Stones is available now from All Will Be Well Records. The album is launched with a gig at Oxford’s Old Fire Station on 14 November.