Chris Wood wrote the last song to break my heart. His "Albion", which pounced on me one evening via Gideon Coe's 6Music show, is a contemporary vision of Blake's land gone wrong, which left me bereft on my cold and lonely bed. Since then, I have been hugely impressed by his work, both on his own and with projects such as The Imagined Village.
I was more than a bit chuffed to receive his new album "So Much to Defend" through the post, and I'm pleased to report that the Kentish bard's repertoire is enhanced by the new songs, which give due recognition to his core subjects of politics, the dispossessed, the marginal and popular culture, within a musical framework based primarily on his 1964 Epiphone semi-acoustic guitar and Essex-made Cornell amplifier.
If the brittle tones of the vintage guitar and amp are slightly disconcerting at first, the familiar Wood voice, rough-hewn and distinctively English, is little changed from his more traditional folky repertpoire, and the guitar sound begins to make sense given a repeat listen or two, particularly as the opening tracks have, respectively, a slightly jazzy feel and a relaxed soul chord progression. The title track, which opens the album, is a series of vignettes from modern life, giving the lie to the somewhat ironic title, as a Polish immigrant worker finds himself fishing the Thames to keep his family fed. "This Love Won't Let You Fail" shows the other side of Wood – a sentimental and wistful love song for a nest-leaving daughter. I caught this song at my only live experience of the man, and noted tears on the cheeks of more than a few in the audience. Here's it's enhanced by a very warm Hammond organ sound, courtesy of Gary Walsh.
Another change of tone with "Only a Friendly", a paean to the supporters of Ebbsfleet United, which features a lovely pun directed from a boy racer to a woman apparently old enough to know better, and some inventively banjo-sounding guitar from Wood.
"The Flail" addresses the loss of the ordinary people's history, and "1887" takes a Houseman poem composed around Victoria's jubilee, over elegant piano from Martin Butler, to address a more modern monarch, and those continuing issues where the sweat of one class sustains the lifestyle of another.
"Strange Cadence" uses looped guitar figures, reminiscent of Stephen Malkmus, and flugelhorn from Justin Mitchell to frame a desolate vision of our planet's direction: "The Earth takes back the reins; We fail to love what we must love; She knows what must be done; She takes our hand and leads us to the purefying sun".
"The Shallow End" ostensibly has more domestic concerns, but is an exemplary display of Wood's lyrical ability to link apparent mere nostalgia to social comment, in that empty vessels do certainly seem to make most noise in our materially-oriented times. "More Fool Me" is a more good-natured, if somewhat jaded, ode to the life of the peripatetic musician which ends, I like to think, with a nod to the road-haunted John Martyn's outro to "May You Never".
Finally "You May Stand Mute" takes the mood back down to a seriously depressive yearning, with the aid of perhaps the most traditionally "folkie" tune on the album, and one which deserves to become a standard of the genre: "By phospher shells and human bombs our broken children cry; While beneath bells in cathedral tombs, the old crusaders lie. You may stand mute while others choose to praise the stars above – but none dispute the desert of a life lived without love".
I find myself playing this album repeatedly, and I'm sure I'll delight in finding it again in a month or so. Treat yourself!
|Chris Wood: So Much To Defend||Benjamin William Pike: A Burdensome Year|
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