This week sees new releases from The Imagined Village, Loose Tubes, Tab Benoit and a Properbox collection of American railroad song – Lonesome Whistle.
The Imagined Village – Bending The Dark (ECC Records)
The arrival of a new Imagined Village album brings with it the thrill of the unknown – what sort of genre-hopping, mind-bending, multicultural journey will Simon Emmerson and crew take us on this time around? Bursting with ideas, Bending The Dark blows away the cobwebs to deliver a bold yet hugely appealing third album that builds from the stark opener, an unaccompanied murder ballad exquisitely sung by Jackie Oates, to the finale – sitarist Sheema Mukherjee’s 12-minute title-track extravaganza that traces the path of the Indian diaspora from the viewpoint of a second-generation immigrant.
The nautical theme of The Captain’s Apprentice continues with New York Trader sung by Eliza Carthy with folky fiddle, twanging sitar, skiddy beats and brass courtesy of the Kick Horns. Winter Singing takes a Cornish dance tune and fills it with layers of glorious vocals, soaring fiddle and driving beats. Eliza’s haunting vocals provide a perfect match for the spacey dub of The Guvna, spliced with fiddle and sitar, while Sick Old Man cleverly turns trad song Raggle Taggle Gypsy into a reflection on the current state of the nation. Jackie’s hypnotic singing shapes the Nest, complemented by Eliza and Martin Carthy’s vocals, while Get Kalsi combines drum & bass with tabla and dhol and features a top line that pays homage to the English film score. Klezmer fiddle and jaunty rhythms, Indian vocables, trad tune Cuckoos Nest, luscious sitar and cittern, drum kit and dhol all find a home in the musical tour-de-force that is Bending The Dark. Superb stuff! [Reviewed by Sofi]
A companion piece to Dancing On Frith Street, this comes from the same series of performances at Ronnie Scotts and what a series of gigs they must have been. Recorded in 1990 and beautifully captured, the 23-strong line-up was always going to sound unique, but what’s striking is the sheer exuberance and belying their name, the tightly knitted arrangements that seem to spin on a dime.
The title derives from the Django Bates tune commenting on the South Africa of the late 80s, inspired by the musical exiles who had left the country’s oppressive regime and settled in London. Perversely, the tune rattles along echoing township themes and gives way to a sheer carnival that runs through Exeter, King Of Cities and Sunny. Mo Mhúirnin Bán starts with a folk-ish tin whistle and ends with huge tangential slabs of brass. Delightful Precipice is a funky take on the dilemma at the heart of a journey into the unknown that is both fun and frightening. Sosbun Brakk stops suddenly for what seems a deliberately staged announcement of the show’s recording before swelling to an anarchic climax. That freedom spills into Sweet Williams, the joyous closer. Wildly inventive and great fun. [Reviewed by Simon]
Lonesome Whistle: An Anthology Of American Railroad Song (Properbox)
Before super highways and relatively cheap internal air travel, during the latter part of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th, railways – or railroads, as they say in America – were the throbbing arteries for freight and public transport across the vastness of the USA. Poor folk either watched the monsters pass them by, hammered the tracks, hopped a freebie in a cattle truck or sat in the cheap seats. Rich folk enjoyed pampered service in swanky saloons. The toffs are not renowned for their railroad reminiscences. Poor blacks and whites, principally of the southern states, wrote and recorded about it aplenty. This 4-CD box set celebrates 100 of the most pertinent and poignant examples, from early blues and country recordings of the 1920s to rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s.
You don’t need to be a train-spotter to climb aboard this anthology; just an open ear for the noble art of storytelling, thematically linked out of different social stations and gradually evolving along the line from acoustic to electric performance. Many legendary artists are featured together with an equal number of ‘never heard of them before but now note their names’ reasons to enjoy the bittersweet romance of railroads.
Here are tales of tragedies, opportunities and loves lost or found, escapes and escapades, of famous railroad companies and forgotten locals. The better known troubadours and raconteurs include Blind Lemon Jefferson, Furry Lewis, Jimmie Rogers (The Singing Brakeman), Mississippi John Hurt, The Carter Family, Charley Patton, Bukka White, Blind Willie McTell, Walter Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie, The Delmore Brothers, Meade Lux Lewis, The Monroe Brothers, Little Brother Montgomery, Robert Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, Leadbelly, Arthur Crudup, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Sonny Boy Williamson, T-Bone Walker, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Johnny Burnette’s Rock ’n’ Roll Trio.
Various Artists compilations often come across as a jumble of odds ’n’ sods if they are not coherently compiled and annotated. This one, enclosing an informative 24-page booklet, is just the ticket. [Reviewed by Cliff White]
Tab Benoit – Legacy: The Best Of Tab Benoit (Telarc)
Tab Benoit is a recent discovery for me with his superb Medicine still on heavy rotataion, so this chance to catch up with some of the best of his Telarc recordings is timely. It also confirms the appeal of his impassioned voice and stinging, signature guitar sound that seem to bubble with the very essence of the bayous and channel the spirit of Louisiana.
It’s a great collection, thoughtfully sequenced mixing originals with some well chosen covers: his takes on I Put A Spell On You and an excellent, bluesy reworking of For What It’s Worth come sandwiched between the motoring boogie of Night Train and an epic Nice And Warm. The latter takes a BB Kingish opening out into the swamps, duelling with Reese Wynan’s Hammond and wringing every ounce of juice out of his battered custom Telecaster. The Cajun/country inflections of Coming On Strong offer a little light relief, while his take on These Arms Of Mine confirms his soulful style and The Blues Is Here To Stay has a languid funkiness. Best of all, the live pairing of New Orleans Ladies and Bayou Boogie simply suggests any chance to see this guy live is an absolute must. [Reviewed by Simon]