This album looks like a unicorn from a distance. But then you get a little bit closer, and you see someone’s just put a party hat on a horse. Questions race through your head, such as, ‘Why on earth is there a party hat on this horse?’, and, ‘Was I wrong to think that it was a unicorn? Can’t I go on thinking that it is a unicorn without severe repercussions from PAPHOTE (People Against Party Hats On The Equine)?’

However we view The Hangman Tree, there’s no doubting there’s a lot to like here. From the playful flutes to the fawning woodwind, all hand in hand with Laura J Martin’s completely mesmerising vocals, it looks very much like we have gold on our hands. Every meander we take with Martin is like we are journeying on a cloud, going past parties in the forests, filled with ents, gruffalos, and the odd dodo. From the opener, ‘The Hangman Tree’, Martin shows that she’s not doing anything beyond the norm (in fact, for anyone who enjoyed Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown last year, you’ll find yourselves right at home) but at the same time delights none-the-less. At least for the first ten songs.

Unfortunately, the album falls down rather sharply after the truly fantastic first ten tracks, each which mixes natural folk sounds with tongue-in-cheek vocals and the entrancing sounds coming from Martin’s mouth. But all of a sudden, what was golden turns into... sand. The type of sand that’s rubbish for making sandcastles, and too damp to sunbathe on comfortably. Our unicorn’s party hat has fallen off, and although the horse itself is an impressive beast, it’s no unicorn.

Album highlights have to include ‘Salamander’, which from its first few lines manages to wind its melodies around you, as guest vocals from Euros Child strike the same playful naivety that Martin so gracefully displays herself. ‘Tom’ is an exceptional song as we are offered Martin’s vocals stripped away from the plethora of sound she surrounds herself with normally. Instead of feeling lost, as many folk vocalists do in this situation, Martin embraces the quiet, and makes it her instrument just as well as any other. As ‘Spy’ ends, the uneasy, on edge, tenth track, unfortunately, the spark that gives the album its buzz does too.

It’s as if Martin’s simply misjudged the strengths she has. The songs meander on, but chop and change to something not quite right throughout. The urgency and immediacy which almost defined the first ten tracks are exchanged with downtrodden messes that truly frustrate. The tracks ‘Elsie’ and ‘Mr Lam’ offer the most direct comparison. ‘Elsie’, the 7th track on the album, contrasts the songs around it, a fifty second ambience piece, bringing to mind a ship at night sailing through a cold, dark sea. ‘Mr Lam’, the 14th track and forty-three seconds long, brings to mind a soundtrack to a particularly standard episode of The Wombles.

Trim the fat, and this album is gold. Sift out the stray pieces of dirt, and you’ve got a wonderful collection of songs here. For me, personally, the first ten tracks I am going to revisit, I am sure, as more UK folk artists come and go. The last six are clutter, in what is an otherwise brilliant set of songs. I’m sure Martin is capable of entertaining us for a long time, and here’s to hoping that next time we see a unicorn without PAPHOTE protestors anywhere in sight.