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She was warned off it by her management, but Hanna Harding wasn't listening on stage. Down went the guitar, up she stood from her stool and belted out - unaccompanied - Edith Piaf's 'Non, Je ne regrette rien' as the last song of her set.

"You're too young to be singing that song, to be singing of regret" said management to Christchurch, New Zealand's Aldous Harding (Hanna is her real first name) but she paid no mind. And from the moment you hear the Kiwi sing 'Stop Your Tears' on her debut album Aldous Harding you can understand why she was so single-minded during her set at Brighton's The Great Escape festival; as a quivering choir floats in and out as an introduction, Harding's voice - as old as time itself - sings "I will never marry my love / I will die waiting for the bells / Death, come pull me underwater / I have nothing left to fear from hell" and you immediately feel the regret, the weight and the sadness even for someone apparently "too young".

It's maybe the voice that makes Aldous Harding such a wonderful prospect; a conscious choice to suit the music she was playing and writing it's very much a traditional folk voice in the vein of Sandy Denny, Vashti Bunyan and Linda Perhacs, completely out of step with 21st century life. And it's complemented by Harding's lyrics, rich with doom-laden imagery such as drownings, pills, the Virgin Mary, blades and mountains - all capturing what appears to have been a dark period in Harding's life as she tried to cope with becoming a musician while her personal life took turns for the worst. Such stark imagery deserves an appropriate musical backing, and this album is at its best when it's just Harding and her guitar, desperate notes and plucks which veer between the portentous as on the opening track 'Stop Your Tears' or the desperately sad, such as 'Small Bones of Courage' where Harding's cyclical picking sound tracks hopelessness on a small, yet significant scale: "we walk alone now with her / the dogs have broken and turned." As if to signify just how desperate she wanted the song to be, Harding highlights the absence of light: "When I cannot find the silver designed to take your life / and the shadows are too deep to find the light / they do not reach the small bones of courage." There's a duality at play in the "silver designed to take your life" line as well - hinting perhaps at marriage, but also danger and a nod to the blade from the album's opening track.

It's not always Harding and her guitar, though. The album is given a little more depth on 'Hunter' where a swooping violin and subtle percussion turn the track into an almost jaunty folk song, 'Two Bitten Hearts' is given an otherworldly feel through the wobble of a bowed saw and the Gothic, Gormenghast-inspired 'Titus Groan' finds Harding harmonising with an accompanying singer... although when the song is revisited later as 'Titus Alone' it's a better interpretation and the Gothic-ness is enhanced by the stark nature of the instrumentation.

Aldous Harding feels very much like a snapshot of a period in Hanna Harding's life that she perhaps now wants to leave behind. It's an incredibly sad and heavy record, but the trick is that the singer never lets it become hard work. Aldous Harding came about as a way to work through problems; problems that we've all experienced. Although the voice is from another time and the imagery is dramatic, the themes are universal - and that's how we connect with this toweringly talented song writer.

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