JO MANGO-WHEN WE LIVED IN THE CROOK OF A TREE.

JO MANGO-WHEN WE LIVED IN THE CROOK OF A TREE.

One of the best kept secrets in Scottish music is Jo Mango, who released her new E.P. When We Lived In The Crook Of A Tree on 2nd December 2013, on Olive Grove Records. It features some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard for a long time. Best described as ethereal, bewitching, captivating and haunting, the four tracks only last nine minutes, but believe me, they make a lasting impression. Quite simply, these are no ordinary songs. Far from it. Mind you, Jo Mango is no ordinary singer. 

Jo Mango wrote the songs for a Celtic Connections show, held in Glasgow in 2012. That night, Jo was supporting Laetitia Sadlier of Sterolab. She’d written and recorded the four sings within a month The songs were based upon Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales. This was the perfect inspiration for Jo. After all, here was a collection of enthralling stories, with stories that range from bleak, dark, joyous and surreal. Soon, Jo had the four songs that became her latest E.P. When We Lived In The Crook Of A Tree. This was just the latest release from Jo Mango, who many people will know from being a member of Vashti Bunyan’s band.

It was back in 2005, that Glasgow based Jo Mango released her debut album, Paperclips and Sand. This was the debut album from Scotland’s latest folk singer, who had spent the least few years finishing her musicology doctorate. Released on Lo-Five Records, Paperclips and Sand introduced us to a talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. 

Not only does Jo write her own songs, but plays a whole host of instruments. A true multi-instrumentalist, Jo plays harmonium, kalimba, omnichord, piano and glock. If she’d been born a generation earlier, Jo could’ve been a member of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Then there’s Jo’s voice. What a voice it is. Enchanting, beguiling, fragile, vulnerable and whispery, it demands you listen. Having released her debut album, Jo split her time between being a member of Vashti Bunyan’s band, finishing her doctorate and her solo career.

Two year later, Jo released her single My Lung, in 2007. Just like Paperclips and Sand, it was released on Lo-Five Records. After that, Jo collaborated with David Byrne in 2007. Then in 2010, Jo released the limited edition The Moth and The Moon on Lo-Five Records. The following year, was a busy year for Jo. She worked with Glasgow based Teenage Fanclub, Devendra Banhart and Coco Rosie during 2011. In 2012, Jo worked with another another Scottish band, Admiral Fallow. That year, Jo released her sophomore album Murmuration.

Murmuration was released on Olive Grove Records. Producing Murmuration, was Adem Ilhan, who Jo knew from her time touring with Vashti Bunyan. On its release in November 2012, Murmuration received critical acclaim. Critics were enchanted by her voice and the way she delivered her cerebral, thoughtful lyrics. Then there’s the eclectic choice of instruments that feature on Murmuration. This was a winning combination. A month later, Jo was asked to support Laetitia Sadlier of Sterolab. Within a month, she’d penned and recorded what became her latest E.P. When We Lived In The Crook Of A Tree.

The songs on When We Lived In The Crook Of A Tree, are based upon Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales. This famous book was the perfect inspiration for Jo. An eclectic collection of enthralling stories, they gave birth to the four songs that became Jo Mango’s When We Lived In The Crook Of A Tree E.P. which I’ll tell you about.

Opening When We Lived In The Crook Of A Tree is the title-track. Stabs of piano provides a melancholy backdrop for Jo’s vocal. Her worldweary vocal paints pictures. Memories come flooding back. With a sense of sadness she sings “we used to hide when the bailiffs came.” You sense she’s seen too much too young. As a result, she’s old, wise and weary before her time. What’s obvious is the bond between her mother and her. That’s unbreakable, unlike her bond with the tree they lived and hid in. Jo’s had enough of it. It brings back memories, memories best forgotten, Wistfully and hopefully, she sings: “cut it down now.” Meanwhile, a melancholy arrangement takes shape, all the time tugging at your heartstrings, just like Jo’s vocal has.

Seasonless opens with the unmistakable sound of a harmonium. Perfectly, it sets the scene for Jo’s vocal. Tender, thoughtful and wistful describes her vocal. As the arrangement meanders along, slowly and gradually revealing its secrets. Similarly, Jo unburdens herself. There’s a fragility and vulnerability in Jo’s vocal. She’s almost despairing and heartbroken. It’s as if her life is almost over. This is apparent when she sings: “everything exhausts me, as I sink into the earth.” Accompanying her is a mournful arrangement which envelops her vocal and proves the perfect, potent and poignant foil for it.

Drums are beaten, while percussion and guitars combine as Send in the Crows unfolds. Jo’s vocal is higher. The despair and despondency of the previous track is gone. Airy and ethereal, her vocal is captivating and enchanting.  As she sings, the song sounds like a fusion of a nursery rhyme and traditional folk music. Full of imagery, imagery and words unspoken, the crow becomes a messenger, but what of? Is it the bringer of bad luck as is so often the case. Similarly, is everything is as it seems, or is there a darkness to the slightly surreal lyrics? That’s what makes this such a bewitching track.

Take Your Medicine closes When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree. A myriad of percussive delights and a glock usher in Jo’s thoughtful vocal. Straight away, she’s painting evocative images. Close your eyes and you can see the “blackened land” Jo is singing about. Then as she song unfolds, a darkness descends as she sings “he took the medicine.” She makes it sound like a punishment for a betrayal. As Jo sings the lyric: “I drank your kindness down,” she sounds both grateful and angry. It’s as if she’s saying this is what we had, and now look what we are. There’s a twist in the tale though. She sings: “lift her high and shake the dust of her desire.” This is just the latest chapter in what sounds like a turbulent relationship that’s gone badly wrong.

For anyone yet to discover Jo Mango’s music, When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree is the perfect starting place. It’s the introduction to another of Scotland’s best kept musical secrets. When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree features some if the most beautiful music I’ve heard for a long time. Best described as ethereal, bewitching, captivating and haunting, the four tracks only last nine minutes, but believe me, they make a lasting impression. 

Based upon Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales, this is cerebral, intelligent music. Full of symbolism and imagery, there’s a surreal quality to some of the lyrics. Everything’s not what it seems. Far from it. It’s like a lysergic musical journey. Best described as a musical hall of mirrors, When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree is full of nuances, subtleties and surprises. It’s also music that’s enchanting and ethereal.

Sounding not unlike a mixture of Katrine Polwart, Jerry Burns and Suzanne Vega, Jo Mango is an artist who deserves widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. Maybe that will come. After all, Jo has only released two albums. When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree which was recently released on Olive Grove Records is a reminder, if any was needed, that Jo Mango is a hugely talented artist.

JO MANGO-WHEN WE LIVED IN THE CROOK OF A TREE.

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