Maddy Prior And The Girls, Guildhall, Lichfield

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The Independent Culture

Prior and her companions have been on the road, unveiling their new double album, Under the Covers. A lot emerges from beneath the awnings. "Meeting Point", detailing a couple's rendezvous in a forlorn coffee shop - "a moment when time stands still" - is a classic, one of several MacNeice settings.

Prior sustains the melody ("Time was away and she was here"), while enticing harmonies are woven around her. Lyric and music alike are beauty itself. The rocking ostinati of Sting's "Love Is the Seventh Wave" surge like a gutsy medieval round, tousled by African cross-rhythms.

There's crystal clarity and thrust to this trio's a cappella singing. "Down" is a polished gospel gem, "Fear Of Life", by Sam Brown yields a breezy Claudia Gibson solo, while Gibson's keyboard background to "Melody Moon" springs surprise modulations.

There was fun, too: impish satire in Chrissie Hynde's "Complex Person", a cheeky comic ditty laced with a mock-medieval vocal drone; or the threesome's shoot-from-the hip, sizzling deftness in Mark Knopfler's "Postcard From Paraguay" - sheer delight.

Wry rhythmic finesse added sparkle to Sinead O'Connor's "Perfect Indian", cheered by warming chords. Keyboardist Nick Holland tossed in a raunchy stop like a Renaissance regal to mock the gleeful thrown rhythms of "Sheela Na Gig". Slick vocal counterpoint lent reassurance to The Levellers' "One Way".

Yet it's where the desolation peered through that this concert consistently scored: the tragic resignation in Abbie Lathe's solo, "False", of a scorned, suicidal girl; or Prior's gorgeous rendering of Kristina Olsen's "The Truth of a Woman". A couple of numbers verged on the humdrum; all else was pure gold.