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Fish Out Of Water Fish Out Of Water
Album: Carp Diem
Label: Talking Elephant
Tracks: 10

OK, I confess I feel a touch guilty (tho' I know I shouldn't!) that I much like Fish Out Of Water, for much of the time - and with a generous 61-minute span for this disc that's not a bad batting average. Now I do like to keep my ear to the ground when it comes to new entrants in the folk-rock brigade, but I confess to having not heard Fish Out Of Water prior to being tipped off about this album, which I believe to be their debut release. All I can tell you emanates from the press handout: Fish Out Of Water is an energetic young band (five members, all in their early-20s) from the South Coast, who follow in the deep footsteps of folk-and folk-prog bands from Fairport and Steeleye to Mellow Candle and Trees, but not really sounding like any of those, taking these sounds forward with the incorporation of touches of experimentalism and psych-electronica, inevitably with mixed results. The most impressive and immediate thing about Fish Out Of Water is the stunning, unearthly front-line voice of Jenny Sutcliffe, distinctive and strong, which is often backed by a vivid rock dynamic, a bold electric-guitar-driven wall-of-sound assault and uncompromisingly driven yet sensitively solid rhythm section; next you'll catch snatches of mandolin, and sometimes there's keyboard/synth burbling away in the mix too. The album credits also list guest appearances by Blair Dunlop and Zak Hobbs, both exemplary guitarists, but there's a lot going on guitar-wise on the album generally and (pace the sleeve credits) it's not always clear whence the sounds originate, for band members Alisha Evans and Ash Gannicott are both also listed as playing electric guitar.

The difficulty for me is that in the end the album's decidedly uneven, and tends to be somewhat wayward in its vision. When Fish Out Of Water are good, they're darned excellent - right on the button and air-punchingly satisfying - as on their epic gothic-dramatic take on Nottamun Town, which features plenty of superlative guitar work and supporting psychedelia and electronics. The obligatory multi-sectional 14-minuter, The Cuckoo Song Set, also contains some good ideas, comprising three separate but connected songs, taking in Quo boogie (The Cuckoo's Nest) and folk-drama (Bird In The Bush) along the way, and (weirdly) incorporating a sample of source singer Kelley Harrell that sneaks out of the ether midway through the sequence. The swaggering My Ladies (sic) Coach motors along (like National Express?!) in a kinda Free-Thompsonesque-rockin' mode with swooping synth figures, while Silver Dagger builds well and is attractively paced for its content (although the enforced octave change between the two halves of the verse can seem a touch disconcerting at first). Haul Away Joe rollicks companionably on the acoustic waves with a lusty sailors' chorus, while Hangman comes over a bit like accessible 70s cheerleader-pop, but nevertheless rocks along nicely.

Then we come down to the experiments-that-don't-quite-work. Bedlam is a strange choice for album opener: well-characterised, but just a bit compromised by the naggingly repetitive see-saw melody line of its verse. Go To Sea No More rings the contrast with an appealingly woozy pub-piano-and-mando setting and suitably swaying gait, but its appeal is dashed when its instrumental break is needlessly swamped by an over-heavy wash of seafaring sound-effects. A surfeit of wind-machine noise also spoils Cold Haily Rainey (sic) Night, which meanders and plods to fill its allotted eight minutes without going anywhere in particular. And the straightahead cover of the Fairport chestnut Walk Awhile is routine, unexceptional and thus somewhat in the "why bother?" category, adding nothing to the original.

Fish Out Of Water are clearly enjoying themselves enormously in making their music - but they just need to exercise a bit more quality control, and rein in the studio effects and excesses and the "seemed like a good idea at the time" moments. They've a lot to offer, however, and here's to their next record. Oh and by the way, the album's sensibly packaged, though I note with not a little wry amusement the latterly-increasingly-fashionable practice of supplying "Roud numbers" in place of the standard "trad arr." credits; is this a reflection of the academic pretensions of this "age of the folk-degree", I wonder?…

David Kidman