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Latin Quarter Latin Quarter
Album: The Imagination Of Thieves
Label: Westpark
Tracks: 13

Birthed in the mid-80s and probably best known for their intoxicating signature song 'Radio Africa', Latin Quarter have been through innumerable line-ups over the decades (albeit with a hiatus from 1990 to 2011), but founder members Steve Skaith and non-performing co-writer Mike Jones have remained constant. They reconvene again for their eighth album, keyboardist Steve Jeffries and drummer Martin Ditcham carrying over from 2014's 'Tilt', here joined by Yo Yo Buys on bass and electric guitar with Mary Carewe adding vocals, and, as ever, deliver a collection of socio-politically aware songs wrapped up in engagingly infectious, headily atmospheric and spooked melodies sung in those distinctive smoky tones.

A number about political corruption, the Skaith-penned title track with its chorus's cascading keyboard chords opens the album, the first verse based on a personal experience in Mexico, the second about a palm-greasing fighter aircraft deal between the UK and Saudi Arabia, followed with sonar pulses introducing the snakily sung Skaith/Jones number 'Below The Water', its lyric about the socioeconomic divide originally written in the 80s, but no less relevant today.

The lyrics written by Michael MacNeill and with Skaith and Carewe duetting, the percussive, melodically undulating You and Me is more about personal politics, built around how you can sometimes, for no discernible reasons, things don't feel right between you and a lover. Another MacNeill co-write, this time with Jeffries, the piano juddering ballad 'Should Have Been Buried' is another negative long song about a relationship that ran its course long ago.

A keyboards instrumental, 'Number 5' provides a bridge into the waltzing folksy strum of 'Dylan Thomas Was Right', a swayalong Skaith song about finding yourself growing old and determining to follow the poet's advice to not go gently into the long night, long time fans likely to recognize him stealing from himself with the fade out tune lifted from 'Older' on the Bringing Rosa Home album.

A fiddle-led Johnny Cash chugger, with lyrics by former Guardian crime correspondent Duncan Campbell, 'Bank Robber's Lament' is a jokey but serious number in which a con, banked up and studying for another OU degree has a sudden epiphany than he'd have had a more successful criminal career had he started a bank rather than robbing one.

Slipping through another Jones relationship song in 'Blue Drifting', it's political commentary again with 'The River Runs', an old school LQ sounding track inspired by how, 400 years ago, the New River was created to take water from Hertfordshire to Islington, for those who could afford it, and how, all those centuries later, there are still those, not just in London, but across the world who don't have access to the water they need to live.

Skaith's 'Dark Side Running' is a particularly relevant song, its tinkling musical box melody at odds with a lyric wondering how young British Muslim, idealists, friendly, well-balanced, end up swelling the ISIS ranks and becoming the exact opposite of the people they were, although, at heart, it's about the darkness that can live within us all as he sings "there's nothing so cruel one man won't do to another."

In terms of political potency, it's up there with 'I Am Refugee', Carewe wailing in the background on an urgent, rocky, driving number (actually it reminds me of The Monkees at their most potent) about the refugee crisis, not just that caused by events in Syria, but across the years and cultures, from the kinderstransports of the 1940s to those expelled from Uganda or fleeing Palestine, and the racists and cynics who condemn them as opportunists or scroungers.

It ends on another song about relationships, Buys' throbbing bassline introducing the tumbling upbeat, pop of 'The Promise' with its jazzy keyboard frills from Jeffries; however, unlike the negative perspectives advanced by Jones, MacNeill's song prefers (to borrow a couple of musical references) to not look back in anger but remember the good.

Far more widely appreciated in Europe than they are back home, regardless of its quality, given limited exposure this probably won't see any groundswell in their loyal but modest UK fanbase, but those willing to seek it out and give it a listen are unlikely to be disappointed.

Mike Davies