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Ann Margaret Hogan - Funeral Cargo

Ann Margaret Hogan may be better known as either Annie Hogan for her work with Marc Almond and the Mambas or as Anni Hogan for her solo work which includes Lost In Blue a gorgeous album she released a short time back, enlisting a long list of friends including Dave Ball and Gavin Friday. For Funeral Cargo and its predecessor Honeysuckle Burials she reverted to her actual given name. It's an artistic distinction allowing her to return to a more experimental minimal pianist self, in a stripped down sound where nature and landscape seep into piano improvisations and compositions.

Clwyds in North Wales was the inspiration for Honeysuckle Burials but for Funeral Cargo she looks to The Wirral for inspiration; it's a place that accounts for her birthplace and home to where she currently resides, and records in her Studio Blue overlooking the Mersey river. It seems lockdown may have conversely unlocked a rush of emotions and feelings. The solace and isolation permitting her to tap into the energies of the locale which she expresses in these paeans to the landscape and the environment which she creates with a painterly sensitivity.

The opening of 'Forgotten Prelude' is draped in repeated sombre chords as if caught in a sense of turmoil, which is slowly resolved as it tumbles into quiet introspective melodies, mapped out like steps along a country path or rolling like waves on a river. 'Fragile Elements' furthers that freedom, found on exploring her locale as the piano chords open out into chiming notes and alluring chords, tiny melodies seeking out the wonder of the landscape which surrounds her in the vicinity of her birthplace.

The opening moments of the title track are more sombre still. Sounding like a death ballad as it fixates on a cycle of portentous chords, before a mid section which veers between repeated stabbing chords and light limber notes reflecting a sense of drama and danger. The Wirral is a locale rich in Viking heritage and Ann Margaret Hogan has cited the image of a Viking funeral as the initial impetus for the track but the symbolism extended into fire and to that of "burning everything and moving forward". To me it captured a sense of fleeing from danger and created images of a boat navigating fiery waters. Either way, it seems to encapsulate the troublesome thoughts that we've all wrestled with throughout this recent strange period.

Ann Margaret Hogan is at her best on 'Returns Part 1' showcasing her virtuosity on the baby grand. Classical and graceful and almost filmic in its composition, it swells into widescreen melodic themes, sprinkled with tiny notes. Glints of sunlight dance on waves, as it tumbles and stretches into the wide expanse. It meditates on time and conversely offers a glimpse into the past and a peek into the unknown future. When this was recorded who knew where lockdown would lead. Its solace offered space, time and an opportunity for contemplation and appreciation. That appreciation is reflected in 'Wolfswalzer', a delightful tender tribute to friend and Lost In Blue collaborator, Kraftwerk's Wolfgang Flür. Capturing a slight Weimar era sound, it is as she described it "a simple waltz of coffee, food, friends and music".

Funeral Cargo finds Ann Margaret Hogan unshackled from song composition immersed in free-flowing experimental and improvised tendencies rooted in place and memory. You can hear it in the final tracks such as 'Impromptu' with its beautiful elegiac movements bookended with field recordings of birdsong, and 'Mesto' which as its title suggests is sad and pensive. Subdued and steeped in solace it captures that sense of introspection attained through walks along the coasts and sojourns around the surrounding villages in plaintive and solemn keys. Funeral Cargo closes on the gorgeous 'Returns Part 2' which swells with upbeat melodies, and chimes with an optimism of sunnier days ahead, leaving you wondering why with such affecting ability on the baby grand and the imagery formed from these piano pieces Ann Margaret Hogan is yet to lend her name to a solo film score.

I may have alluded to Funeral Cargo as being a lockdown album but it isn't really. Funeral Cargo is filled with an intimacy in its composition combining thought, memory and place where you can get lost in the beauty and tranquillity of nature. Its improvised and composed score captures elements of her previous work touching upon jazz and classical motifs amidst the cyclical and repetitive patterns of her more experimental and expressive pieces. Released on Downwards the label operated by Karl O'Connor of Regis with whom she collaborated on Reversing Into Tomorrow. Funeral Cargo, like the collaborative album Lost In Blue, was made with love, and showcases a more thoughtful expressive and introspective side to Ann Margaret Hogan. It's a charming collection of piano pieces and a beautiful musical portrait of place, nature and memory. Funeral Cargo is available digitally from bandcamp and on clear vinyl in an edition of 300 copies from Boomkat