Well it's been 4 years since the release of Folklaw's critically-acclaimed sophomore release "The Tales That They Tell" - a long time, indeed an eternity, in terms of a bands musical development and maturity, but it's abundantly clear in this instance that although the fiery 4 piece have indeed matured and continued to hone their craft, it's refreshing to hear that what makes Folklaw so appealing, if not unique, is still intact and there for all to see. You want stomping tunes with lyrics that make you think? You want hooky fiddle refrains? You want a singalong chorus? You want deft musical subtlety? They're all still here, alive and kicking, but in typical Folklaw style where compromise is clearly not an option.
It's actually kind of reassuring in these fad-conscious times to listen to a band who know how to write a great folk tune, and deliver it without any pretensions of grandeur. Here are a band that clearly enjoy what they do. And what they do is kick up a proverbial musical storm in time honoured folk rocking vogue. You know that if you catch Folklaw at a festival, then they're going to have the crowd on their feet, singing at the top of their voices, just having a good old fashioned great time!
And essentially "Smokey Joe" echoes the bands live persona, with an album choc-full of songs that at times are reminiscent of the Oysterband circa the "Shouting End Of Life" period, when it was us against the world and those salient sentiments were backed up with fiddle-led songs that had you punching the air in defiance in the hope of a better way forward. Folklaw tap cleverly into that rich seam of songwriting inspiration, but bring those convictions full circle and skilfully interweave an undeniable personal facet that adds an intriguing dimension to this fine collection of songs.
So on the one hand you'll have album opener, and title track, "Smokey Joe" with it's folk / bluegrass cross-over appeal, where driving rhythm, fiddle and adept acoustic lead are the order of the day, sitting deftly alongside the beautiful and deeply personal "Gloucester Boys", where county pride is expressed through a sweet tune.
"Waterways Of England" sees Folklaw drop down a gear into sensitive mode, for a tune that paints a longed-for picture postcard future. Nick Gibbs haunting fiddle eases in and out of the song effortlessly and nestles beside an understated chorus and gentle harmonica. "Mad Fiddler" sums up the Folklaw ethos perfectly, with a ridiculously catchy fiddle line allied to punchy chorus and trademark driving rhythm guaranteed to have even the most reluctant dad-dancer hitting the festival floor without reservation. The album is bought to a wonderful close with the outstanding and evocative "Cradle To The Grave" - deeply personal, lyrically revealing, based around a simple revolving verse, and all band members contributing vocally, a fitting end indeed.
"Smokey Joe" is the sound of band comfortable with their own identity, a band that are maturing (dis)gracefully, a band that still know what they want to say and are going to damn well say it - but possibly a tad more subtly than maybe they once would have! The inclusion of more intimate songwriting is a refreshing addition to the bands armoury, and ensures that the album is a nicely rounded affair. Folklaw can be rightly proud of "Smokey Joe", and should ensure the next step up the roots ladder.
|Lynne Hanson: Uneven Ground||Carrie Elkin: The Penny Collector|
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