Artist of the Week: Fern Knight

Music Features Fern Knight
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Hometown: Philadelphia, Pa.
Fun Fact: Her “Song for Ireland” is a memorial to Irish comedian Dermot Morgan, star of Father Ted, and his character’s satirical stab at the Eurosong ’96 contest.
Why She’s Worth Watching: Fern Knight’s deeply affecting noir-folk is a gorgeous testament to the power of a well-composed harmony.
For Fans Of: Vashti Bunyan, Pentangle, Nick Drake 

While many artists belonging to the new wave of contemporary folk adorn themselves in quirky gimmicks or self-conscious “weirdness,” Fern Knight eschews such affectations and instead relies on the kind of thoughtful, personal songcraft that makes music truly timeless. Led by Margaret Wienk, and featuring an ever-evolving company of players, the Philadelphia collective revels in the stark beauty of autumn. Its within this dynamic that vivid color and energy all come to a head before dissipating into solemn, austere expanses of space. Wienk’s writing carries with it a deeply natural, organic quality, plumbing the darkest corners of the wilderness, where curiosity takes hold and imagination fills the blanks with the improbable and fantastic. “I like personifying creatures of the forest,” Wienk says. “Making music that mimics the ebb and flow of the sea, and trying to relate these things to me personally.”

Although she is a talented instrumentalist, adept at plucking out a bright melody on the guitar or coaxing a mournful sigh from the cello, it’s her highly evocative lyrics that leave a lasting sting. Personal and poetic, her words offer oblique vignettes of loss, meditation and playful mischief. On 2003’s Seven Years of Severed Limbs, a delicate slice of noir folk if ever there was one, Wienk conjures a sense of remoteness and distance with allusions to distant snowbound cities while openly challenging the imperious shadow that hangs over the album. “I can’t wait,” she sings, “to see your kingdom / your spires toppling / into each other and into the ocean.”

Conversely, Fern Knight’s upcoming release, Music for Witches and Alchemists emerges from the dusky twilight of its predecessor with a clear and brisk attitude, aided by a competent stable of guests like accordionist Alec Redfearn and Greg Weeks and Meg Baird of Espers. “We’ve all been connected for years,” Wienk says. “Having so many talented people lending a hand definitely shaped the overall sound of the album.” “W. Memphis” is an apt example of the ensemble’s contributions, brimming with guitars, strings, cascades of harp and accordion all flowing over one another as Wienk’s airy vocals tie it all together with the focus of a darning needle.

Music for Witches and Alchemists inspires fervent and breathless devotion, succeeding with memorable songs that wrap around the listener with the tenacious determination of creeping ivy. There’s no substitute for such authentically beautiful music, and Fern Knight is willing to provide as much as any listener can handle.

Download an umastered, short sample of “Song for Ireland”
Fern Knight’s Official website
Fern Knight on MySpace

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