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Emily Fairlight has a proper folk singer’s background: a teenage runaway adventurer in Australia and India, a circus school student who once sang naked at a burlesque night on a whim, a female-friendly pornography-free sex toy shop assistant, a barista and a runner/jack-of-all-trades at a digital visual effects company.

With its New Zealand rural Gothic/Texas borderlands feel, Mother of Gloom is an elusive creature. Ultimately, the prevalence of acoustic guitar and intimate sharing of lived experience through song suggest it is folk music or, as Fairlight self-deprecatingly calls it, “doom-folk”.

Her vocal style – a powerful quivering vibrato and a stark, haunting tone, teak-hard yet soft as crushed velvet – elicits comparisons to PJ Harvey, Bridget St John, Emmylou Harris and Cat Power, musicians with distinctive voices and a lyrical ability to conjure a kind of experiential realism, although Mother of Gloom can also hold its own alongside the storytelling of Will Oldham and soundscapes of Calexico. Each song is a timelessly elegant, at times distressed, vignette, capturing the essence of a place, memory or feeling, framed by a diverse musical palette with space for the imagination left between the sounds.

Fairlight currently lives in Dunedin and has been composing and performing for over a decade. She has played throughout NZ and Australia and recorded Mother of Gloom with Doug Walseth at The Cat’s Eye Studio in Austin, Texas on her third trip to the USA, aided by local musicians including Cully Symington (Bright Eyes, Okkervil River) and multi-instrumentalist Kullen Fuchs. The album was mixed at Ben Edwards’ Sitting Room studios near Lyttelton harbour where New Zealand folk and country sensations Aldous Harding, Delaney Davidson, Marlon Williams and Nadia Reid created their breakout works.

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