Jo Beth Young - Broken Spells

Jo Beth Young – Broken Spells

Some albums just come out at the right time for a listener. Just before I experienced a very sad event Jo Beth Young released her own unique blend of ethereal indie-folk infused Broken Spells. After my loss, listening to and reviewing music was simply off the radar for a while, and in her generosity when I informed her the review would be delayed by this event Jo Beth suggested that in those circumstances that there was no need to review her album. However, life goes on and perhaps it was timely that I reviewed such an album at this time as it is balm for the soul.

This is jo Beth Young’s third full album, but the first under her own name. Some readers may know her as ‘Talitha Rise’ releasing An Abandoned Orchid House in 2018, full of pastoral enchantments and hints of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ type whimsy. She shortened her performing name to just ‘Rise’ for the much more ethereal and darker Strangers in 2019. Apart from a change in name Jo Beth Young has also been on a significant spiritual journey in the intervening years since Strangers. She previously characterised herself as a ‘confirmed lifelong pagan’ but has now found Faith as a born-again Christian. Such a transformation may discourage some readers but be assured that Jo Beth displays her faith in a matter-of-fact way with a down to earth sensitivity, and does not thrust her beliefs upon listeners, although clearly they are important to her. Jo Beth Young explained her thinking behind this album:

“I think I was questioning absolutely everything in life when I started this album. What was happening in the media, the government, the World and to us as beings. I was also looking into what was happening inside of me. This meant asking myself deep questions such as whether for all my beliefs I was a good person? Had I been corrupted in any way? Did I need to purify my intentions in life? Looking at the World I started asking, does evil really exist? And if it does, does that mean the opposite must also exist and be true?”

Clearly, this music means a lot to Jo Beth Young and that feeling emanates from every note. However, it is quite difficult to define Jo Beth Young’s music. I have already used the term ‘ethereal’ (and may do again!) but that does not really convey the multiple layers of music and meaning. This is clearly a cathartic release for Jo Beth, with each song subtitled by which Spell is broken in her life. She explains her approach thus:

“I started to see that there was something bigger than personal and physical conflict going on, that there was indeed a bigger spiritual war at play. I came to realise that spells are everywhere. When we believe anything we’re told or is spoken over our life, that is a spell in itself. I was exploring how I could break these? How we could find truth and clarity? I think that’s really the living impetus behind the songs; Seeking truth and breaking strongholds and illusions.”

This release is a journey of liberation for Jo Beth, breaking free of spells and beliefs which have held her back and resurrecting herself spiritually. The softly melodic music and crystalline vocals may give the impression of fragility or an ‘Aerie Faerie’ nature to the songs, but that would miss the more pointed nature of the lyrics. For example, the soft string and acoustic guitar music which carries Jo Beth’s delicate vocals in the opening Wolf Song belies the sharper nature of the song which focuses on someone who cries wolf, and getting over narcissistic abuse – there’s a real bite to the words. Jo Beth Young has shared that Standstill was written for a short film ‘The Clear’, written from the viewpoint of the main protagonist justifying his poor behaviour, but coming to the realisation that he is trapped by the same behaviours with a line reminiscent of a U2 song:

Coz we’re Running, Running To standstill.
I’ve got a secret I can’t pretend.
My life support Is my untended ways…

The eerily echoing Ockham’s Razor progresses along moodily, articulating the view that the most simple answer is normally the most accurate, or to put it even more simply – at the end of the day truth is simple! Jo Beth has explained that this is about the forces of darkness having no place to hide once the truth comes out, which accentuates the sense of liberation Jo Beth feels with her conversion to Christianity.

Talking of razors the edginess and tension of the …(yes, I’m going to use that word… again) …ethereal (!) song Burning is really brought to life by the spectral playing of the E-Bow by Peter Yates, of the Fields of the Nephilim. One of the highlights of Broken Spells for me is the more folk infused Brigid, which highlights the glorious range and quality of Jo Beth’s voice. The Steel guitar picking of John Reed gives the piece an earthy but beguiling feel. Jo Beth has shared that Brigid was inspired after Jo Beth became unwell and was unable to use her left hand. She feared she would never play the guitar again. She explained that in her despair and sadness she sat up all night on January 31st experimenting with loops. She wrote this song all night, and in the morning she was joyful at the realisation that she could still create music. By morning it was February 1st, which is Saint Brigid’s Day, which inspired the song title. A great story for a remarkable song.

Ben Roberts of Silver Moth features across the album with his beautiful cello playing. His cello play is best exemplified in the gossamer thin spell of Lazuli, combining so sweetly with Jo Beth’s gorgeous voice, telling the tale of a dead First World War soldier in the afterlife realising he had been lied to, leading to his death. Jo Beth expands on the theme of lying, including those we tell ourselves. Mechanical Ballerina stands out on this album in its more assertive, percussive approach. Jo Beth explained that it was written for Kyle Cassidy’s modern interpretation of Ibsen’s play ‘A Doll’s House’ during lockdown, about Nora, the lead character who is dealing with the downfall of her seemingly perfect but superficial life. Jo Beth imagined Nora as dancing her way through all the challenges in her life and eventually realising the truth.

Nearly all the songs on Broken Spells are in the range of 3 to about 5 minutes, but Jo Beth does stretch out a little more expansively on the penultimate Kinder Sea, which she has humorously described as her ‘accidental attempt at being Pink Floyd’!! The subtitle of this piece is ‘Resurrection comes after the Storms’ and touches on a very personal subject of betrayal for Jo Beth, and the knowledge that after the storm would come renewal. The Cello of Ben Roberts, the E-Bow of Peter yates and Jo Beth’s own Bowing really give this slow burning piece an ‘other worldly’ atmosphere, teetering between rage and resolution. The final atmospheric song of the album, Night Voyage, probably sums up Jo Beth’s spiritual journey, and she has explained it is about letting go of toxic situations. She has added that even getting dragged through awful situations can eventually help you as it ‘will help you break the spell of what it was you were bowing down to by accident and ultimately you were holding onto things that were dead and never alive.’ Jo Beth’s powerful words lay this out so evocatively:

The Gift of Hell, It Broke the Spell, The Gift of Hell,
Yes, I learned a lot, Accepting gifts from poison cups
And it never would have stopped.
Your pain was made, To wake me up. Wake me up.

It is an impactful and appropriate way to finish this album with striking feelings conveyed over Jay Newton’s subtle and fine piano play. However, like much of this album, this final piece fittingly is mostly Jo Beth Young pouring out her soul with such feeling and restrained power. This album is a fascinating insight into the personal journey of Jo Beth Young who puts everything out there in her songs, which are drenched in honesty, integrity and commitment to her own Truth. She has always had a spiritual dimension to her work so her recent conversion to Christianity is just another step in her Soul’s journey and artistic expression. Broken Spells is an intensely personal and inspiring album, written from the Heart and performed with emotional intuition and great skill… Jo may have Broken Spells over her, but this album has the potential to cast a spell over many listeners.

01. Wolf Song (4:32)
02. Standstill (4:31)
03. Ockham’s Razor (4:07)
04. Burning (5:24)
05. Brigid (3:45)
06. Lazuli (4:14)
07. Adversity (5:08)
08. Mechanical Ballerina (3:12)
09. Kinder Sea (6:36)
10. Night Voyage (3:36)

Total Time – 45:05

Jo Beth Young – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Synths, Pianos, Guitars, Programming & Bowing
Peter Yates – Electric Guitars, Extra Synths, E-Bow
Jules Bangs – Bass Guitar
Ben Roberts – Cello
~ With:
Carey Todaro – Events/Beats (3)
Matt Blackie – Beats/Events, Percussion (5 & 9), Keyboards (7)
John Reed – Steel Guitar (5)
Jay Newton – Rhodes Piano (3), Piano (10)

Record Label: Wise Queen Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st March 2024

Released under former name of ‘Talitha Rise’
– Blue EP (2017) (originally released in 2014)
– An Abandoned Orchid House (2018)
Released under former name of ‘Rise’
– Strangers (2019)
Released as ‘Jo Beth Young’
– Broken Spells (2024)

Jo Beth Young – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube | X