Shamefacedly, I have to confess to never having been a big fan of the trio, so it seems ironic that, as they draw a line under their touring, embarking on a final set of dates, towards the end of October, that they should release an album, their tenth, that ranks among my favourites of the year
As ever, it's totally unaccompanied and bristling with songs of political protest and social injustice, a mixture of self-penned numbers, traditional and covers, kicking off in particularly powerful form with "The Avenging Angel", Jim Boyes's biting commentary on the Iraq war and its true oil-driven motives set to a tune attributed to one John Barnet Matthias, guessingly a 19th century preacher. The second of the political numbers comes with Lester Simpson's "If We Were Them", a song that addresses the mass migration that has taken place since WWII, the "legacy of empire", and which is currently at the forefront of the political agenda with the refugee crisis The song takes a wider look at events, questioning the perspective from both sides ("would we see strange and they see hate...would you see flight and I see swarm"). There's a more specific focus to "Children of Palestine", Boyes's taking lead on a text he set to a traditional tune and, in the sleeve notes, featuring a quote from Palestinian poet Ghayath Almadhoun, the song fading way on the refrain of "covered in lies".
The disappearance of a way of life and a community is also at the heart of Simpson's shanty-like "Twilight Hunter", though here it is progress rather than politics that is responsible, the song addressing how the opening up of the North West Passage for industrial expansion impacted on the traditional lifestyle of the Inuit.
The trio were involved in last year's album and live project, "The Ballads of Child Migration" and from that they've chosen to cover one of the songs for their own album, that being Boo Hewardine's waltz-time "The Man That I Am", sung in the voice in one of the orphans forced to migrate to Australia, an interesting and thematically contrasting companion piece to While and Matthews "Pinjarra Dreams", which appeared on the album and has now been reprised on their own latest.
The last of the politically-themed numbers is also the final track, the hymnal "Anthem For A Planet's Children" with words by Boyes set to a tune by Renaissance German composer Hans Leo Hassler and a reminder that, while the powers that be may seek to divide, "we are all related through common ancestry. Our future is together. Our past is reconciled."
Naturally it's not all about politics and injustice, and several numbers celebrate those who work together on sea or land, the former in the self-explanatory "Bound By The Fishing", a song that rises above its technical exercise of devising lyrics involving characters named for the sea areas (Alistair Cromerty, Patience Humber, etc) and the links in the fishing industries, and the latter with Boyes's rousing "The Drovers' Way", a commissioned number about the green ways along which drovers moved cattle to the south from Scotland. The land is also his subject in "The Bright Ploughshare", though its lyrics about labouring to provide grain for the mills to grind into bread are, in keeping with their recent album relating to WWI, also laced with reference to a different harvest in foreign fields.
Poets lend a hand too. Sean Rafferty's "From Hereabout Hill" has been set to a traditional tune lifted from "Where My Wellies Take Me", a performances based on the Clare and Michael Murpurgo book, here segueing into the wholly English traditional "May Song", while, set to a Salvationist hymnal style tune, "Nothing Gold", about the difference between living to work and working to live was inspired by Robert Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay". Then there's a cover of the playfully fanciful "Frida Kaholo's Visit To The Taybridge Bar" by Dundee legend Michael Marra and, still on a playful note, but with a serious environmental theme, "PET Song" is Simpson's music hall influenced comment on how the plastic bottles of water may "keep the world hydrated" but also clogs up the seas, highways and landfills.
Elsewhere, the album's rounded out with a reading of the traditional "Napoleon's Dream" from Norfolk fisherman Sam Larner, a formative influence on the young Martin Carthy, and, another trad tune, "Flandyke Shore", a 17th century number about the familiar combination of doomed love and death, learned from Nic Jones'1982 recording on "Penguin' Eggs".
If Coda really is the last word, it's a hugely passionate and eloquent one that demands to be spoken far and wide.
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