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Mawkin Mawkin
Album: Down Among The Dead Men
Label: Good Form
Tracks: 12

The fiercely independent Essex-boy folk-rockers return at long last, with their crowdfunded new album (for yes, it does seem ages since 2015’s widely-acclaimed offering The Ties That Bind). These guys still mean business, and strut onto the soundstage with a mighty natural bravado and an enviable swaggering confidence, one that’s been growing apace over the course of four albums (ever since the “extended procrastination” of the promise of their debut release) and is now heftily consolidated on album number five.

Whenever encountering a new folk-rock album, I always ask myself, are these guys bringing anything fresh to the sub-genre? Folk-rock has its critics, and justifiably so when it’s all too easy to just rock up the lyric and plonk on an unimaginative thudding backbeat. Not so here, for these jolly Mawkin chaps drive the music along with a real sense of purpose as well as a keen ear for balance within the beefy, monolithic texture. True excitement is generated all along the way, not only in the general thrust and momentum but also in the way the different lead instruments (melodeon, guitar, violin), pull back and forth to follow, enhance or comment on the text or vocal line. With the famous Delarre brothers and their partner-in crime melodeon maestro Nick Cooke, accomplishment and true musicianship go hand in hand, all elements supported brilliantly by Danny Crump’s chunky, robust bass and Lee Richardson’s inventively bedrock drumming.

Broadly speaking, the Mawkin sound is good-time small-stage-makes-big-stage. I guess you need to think Bellowhead without the blowsy big-bandery or clubbing; or, closer still perhaps, Blackbeard’s Tea Party, the Duncan McFarlane Band or Vice-Of-The-People Albion Band. In other words, taking no prisoners and guilty of the charge of partying with serious intent!

Pure sound aside, and turning to the treatment of the songs, this is thoughtful for sure, but often with the added chutzpah of punchy group-chorus vocals. And did I mention intelligence too? Well I should, for an abundance of this quality redeems any potential reaction of “not again!” that might come from a superficial glance at the tracklist. A Smugglers’ Song, for instance (using the Peter Bellamy tune, I’m glad to say), ingeniously transmutes into Daniel Wright’s Hornpipe which sports some delicious passages of counterpoint. Oh Dear Oh (aka No Courage In Him) is neatly paired with James’ tune The Wobbly Schottische, while the disc’s title number is leeringly swayed by David, as befits a toast to the god Bacchus. And even Diamond Ship (a thinly disguised version of Bonny Ship The Diamond) is redeemed by a juicy, funky instrumental break.

But the full Mawkin monty comes on tracks like Midnight Ranger, which amalgamates two songs (one from the Full English archive and the other by Sam Bagnall) to form a satisfying structure under the guise of “a proper Mawkin mashup”, complete with a sparky reel to finish. And Blind Fiddler, which few of us could hitherto envisage being better served than by Phil Beer, but which here gets a fresh corrective prescription from James’ retelling of the tragic tale, complete with a battering-ram of a companion tune, The Cabin.

The album’s wild-card entry is Old Fool, James’s blisteringly over-distorted admonition against the dangers of drinking, which grinds along jauntily a bit like Madness through a scuzzy amp with even heavier, woozier tread. This aural onslaught is followed without a break by the “prettiest” of the disc’s uptempo tune-sets, a sprightly hornpipe and polka from the Full English archive. But the prize for the most lyrical instrumental track must go to a tune by Matthew Keegan-Phipps, To Wednesday (for the explanation for whose title you’ll need to read the liner note), or the pleasing, if slighter neo-pastoral ramble Cooke’s Wafer (inevitably, a composition by Nick), which segues effortlessly into the album’s closing track, a seductive and gently ruminative take on the mariner’s tale Jolly Roving Tar.

So, you want the real thing in folk-rock, bold and heavy-duty but with taste and sensitivity built in. The deal, “the package”? Well, you can rely on these Mawkin chaps to deliver, right enough!

David Kidman