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Talking Elephant (2010)

Albion Band

1987's Natural and Wild (Talking Elephant TECD155) is a concept album with a difference as the Albion Band set out to explore contemporary eco issues and manage to strike a successful balance between some great folk music and meaningful subject matter.

A year later The Albion Dance Dance Band's 'Rockin' Barn Dance' is a shade more traditional and does precisely what it says on the tin, but not in the way you might imagine.

And while Ashley Hutchings has always been a restless musical catalyst driving the likes of The Fairports, Steeleye Span and the Albion Band, the 'Natural and Wild' CD breaks new ground and is a superbly thought out album while 'Barn Dance' is a mix of adventurous musical explorations within traditional dance formats.

But first 'Natural and Wild', which as Ashley himself tells his audience 'is a celebration of the countryside as it was, new song new music about the country side as its changing….and how wildlife has moved …outside of the country side into the town'.

Special guest, the naturalist and broadcaster Chris Baines adapts his eco politics to the music superbly. 'Foxy Comes to Town' for example, is presented as a children's song with the lyrics focusing on the oft seen urban fox; - 'He's a regular commuter with a special job to do, cleaning up the rubbish left by me and you'.

Baines later add a wistful and moving 'I Was the Child' suggesting his command of words is on a par with his role as a naturalist.

And while the album works its way through different elements of wild life and the music touches different stands, from the West Coast feel of 'Another World in the Night' to 'My Beautiful Bomb Pit' - given a June Tabor style a cappella style reading by Cathy LeSurf - this is folk music at its best. Hutchings also cleverly unearths a strand of continuity between the albums' thematic eco concerns and Joni Mitchell's 'Big Yellow Taxi'. It's a clever way of making the point that the issues at hand have been around a long time.

'Natural and Wild' is the music of Middle England but speaks for people for whom eco concerns ring loud and clear in songs such as 'Woodlands of England' and 'See This Lake, Son' .

The uplifting harmony singing on both 'Laura's Song' and 'Harvest Anthem' is as inspiring as it is timeless and acts as a benchmark for the standards the band set itself. Teaming up with naturalist and broadcaster Chris Baines is a master stroke as the committed naturalist contributes some relevant lyrics, no better than on the wistful 'I Was a Child'. File under Green Folk/Rock. ****

When 'Dance' became the buzz term in the music biz, it probably wasn't traditional Square Dance and Two Steps they had in mind. But who else but the Albion Dance Band (Rockin' Barn Dance Talking Elephant TECD154) could start a square dance like 'Tavern in The Town' and work their way into a rock and roll finale. Curiously that particular song has American origins and somehow ended up in Devon, whereas you might have the suspected the opposite, especially given the frenetic finish.

The band also unveils the impressive title track of their 1988 album 'I Got New Shoes'. Polly Bolton adds a mesmerising vocal on the humorous 'I Only Wanna Dance with You' (presented as a cha cha). And while Ashley in his role as a caller gets a bit wearing after a few plays, the music is always riveting. This is especially so on the Baroque feel of the instrumental 'The Leaving of Wessex', which features some beautiful piano lines from John Shepherd and the angular horn playing from the ever unpredictably brilliant Pete Zorn. But then again who else but the Albion band could integrate such a brilliant talent in such an original manner? Ditto the unlikely humorous calling of Sid Kipper??

There's still time for another album highlight with the beautifully Polly Bolton sung 'Drowned Lover' lament. And while this song may stand at odds with much of the rest of the album there are so many subtle musical twists and turns as evidenced on the quite brilliant 'Three Toed Tumbler', that it would be criminal to overlook such an essential alt dance record! ****

Review by Pete Feenstra


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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