Following the release of two E.P.s, Soaking To The Bone (2010) and Good Times (2012), 2014 saw the successful release of a debut full-length album Rhinceros, which resulted in Green Rock River Band being much sought after. Having scored the feature length soundtrack to The Fitzroy, which picked up two awards at the Austin, Texas SXSW Festival, this London-based band toured across the UK and picked up radio exposure both at home and abroad.
In 2017, in what may have been an epiphany, the group took a long, hard look at the world around them, with political, environmental, social and musical landscapes falling under their scrutiny. The result is Edgelands, their latest release.
Once self-described as a 'Wonky Tonk Doom Folk Band', the group have garnered a reputation for creating original music with a wide-ranging eclectic mix of instruments, which on this release includes guitar, banjo, washboard, trombone, trumpet, fiddle, bass guitar and drums, together with vocal harmonies. Whilst the overall sound of this album is very much a melange of styles and influences covering folk tradition, jazz, Americana and country, it is one which at the same time is most contemporary in feel.
This release has an underlying theme, indeed concept, in which its inspiration is taken from an almost polar opposite to that of many other 'folk and country' offerings, which have tended to focus upon open roads, plains or seas, the former almost always in a rural context. Here the emphasis is firmly upon the particularly British, suburban wildernesses, the places and spaces on the edges of cities, the wastelands by the side of the ring-roads, indeed the urban edgelands that give the CD its title.
The opening track, Hard Times, is a gloriously delivered song, and a perfect evocation of this theme, in which the protagonist laments his predicament, in which due to no fault of his own, he has been forced to move through the edgelands and now invites you to join him, on the edge of the world, throwing rocks into the sea
'Hard times, hard times
Goddam these hard times
Always at my door
Always at my door
Goddam this misery
Not leaving me alone
Not leaving me alone'
The tempo increases, and the mood lightens, with Blackbird which is immediately reminiscent, (notwithstanding a difference in vocal delivery), of Bellowhead, before the third track, I Loved This City, contemplates the all too familiar story of how these spaces proliferate, as cities increasingly assimilate land in order to accommodate the escalating need for homes.
Another stand-out track is the Kevin, King Of The Edgelands, which explores the tale of young schoolboys Kevin and his best mate, and their edgeland 'kingdom'; building a den using radiator parts, scraps with older lads, staying out until bed-time - something which resonates fully with my upbringing on late 50s early 60s Birmingham overspill estates, (apart from radiator parts - open fireplaces in our day).
'We were happy, both him and me
It was a world where we were free
We were Kings of the edgelands
Dirt crowns in our hair
Plastic bag flowers bloomed from the ground
We'd be there 'til supper came around'
With There's A Sadness, I would defy anyone, on a 'blind listening', to guess that this track had been recorded anywhere other than Nashville, such is its authentic country sound, whilst Infinite Possibilities continues in the same musical vein, whilst lyrically referencing the allure that can be evidenced in the overlooked areas of wasteland.
'..the infinite possibilities and endless romance
of a service station at midnight'
Whilst it may seem that the songs presented so far represent bleak, possibly unedifying and unnerving scenarios, the final track Tomorrow ends the album with what appears to be an optimistic shout out to the future, hopeful and inspiring, urging the creation of a world in which humanity fills the voids created in and around these edgelands.
This is an accomplished release that grows with repeated listenings.
If you are happy to have an eclectic mix of musical styles on one album, are comfortable with a group who push the envelope with those musical styles in innovative ways, and appreciate something removed from the anodine, then this is for you.
If you are none of the above, give it a listen anyway, you might just be pleasantly surprised.
|Tommy Fleming: Stories||Al Shields and the Delahayes: Fire On Holy Ground|
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