Dot Allison has led a peripatetic musical life over the last four decades, working with everyone from Nicola Roberts, of pop sensationalists Girls Aloud, to My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields. This adaptability and willingness to experiment is the mark of a fascinatingly wayward artist whose next turn is rarely what you’d expect. But her classic remains 1993’s Morning Dove White, the lone record by her trio One Dove, a collection of glowing chill-out soul made in collaboration with the late Andrew Weatherall.
Allison mentions Weatherall, who died in 2020, as being “the biggest influence, in a mentor type way” on Heart-Shaped Scars, her first solo record in almost a decade. And if this music sounds a world away from the electronic pop of Morning Dove White, eschewing drum machines and dub bass lines in favor of acoustic guitars and the gentle sounds of nature—a sonic mixture similar to Allison’s 2007 album Exaltation of Larks— it does share Weatherall’s modus operandi of working with sympathetic collaborators to bring out the best in yourself, as well as the DJ’s occasional tendency to ramble. Allison made the album with Fiona Cruickshank, a producer who has worked as “string engineer” for Coldplay and Paul Weller, and Hannah Peel, a composer whose album Fir Wave was nominated for the Mercury Prize. Singer-songwriters Amy Bowman and Zoë Bestel also contributed, while nature itself lent a helping hand on the field recordings of birds and rivers that decorate Heart-Shaped Scars like arcadian gems.
Some of the best moments come when a graceful arrangement creeps its way around Allison’s vocals. Toward the end of “Constellations,” for example, a solitary cello spins around Allison’s voice like sparks off a Catherine Wheel. This is not to underplay Allison’s own role: her whispery voice, more Isobel than Glen Campbell, is like the faded print on a vintage magazine, with an otherworldly edge of authority. On “Long Exposure,” the opening track, she sounds right at the end of her tether, steeping the word “wrecking ball” with a velvety power. This song is Heart-Shaped Scars at its best: a gorgeously autumnal, leaf-thin slice of folk music that sits somewhere between the disquieting rural vibrations of Paul Giovanni’s soundtrack for The Wicker Man and Joni Mitchell’s Laurel Canyon gold.
There are a handful of other excellent songs, notably “Cue The Tears,” which evokes the wistful ecstasy of bucolic freedom, the long escape to the country after Morning Dove White’s big night out. Instead of being carried away by the songs themselves, however, the smaller moments leave the greatest impressions: the fantastically ornate string arrangement on “Forever’s Not Much Time” or the descending vocal melody on “Constellations,” which drops away like a leaf falling to the ground. This ephemeral appeal may have something to do with the album’s lightweight texture. Heart-Shaped Scars has a tendency to drift. Many of these songs could lose a couple minutes in the edit without a great deal of discomfort. The six-plus minutes of “The Haunted” might be great for lying under a tree when you can’t be bothered to change the music, but the song feels stretched for every-day listening. This kind of conundrum is typical of Heart-Shaped Scars’ almost-there appeal. It is an album of quiet delights, but at times it feels like the songs are simply stretched too thin: three-star meals served with five-star service.
Buy: Rough Trade
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