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The Trials Of Cato The Trials Of Cato
Album: The Trials Of Cato EP
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 4

The Trials Of Cato is a fairly-new-to-the-scene young trio with a remarkably attention-grabbing presence and a lightning-fast-growing reputation. And the band name alone provokes lively debate before they even get to play a note! So I’d best not spoil the talking-point, and instead provide you with plenty of good reasons to buy their fantastic debut EP.

And yes, it is that good. There’s just four tracks, together lasting barely a quarter of an hour, but the guys pack a lot into that short timespan, not least in wordage and note-count values! Everything they play is high-energy, but the glory is that it never seems rushed, for theirs is an easygoing accomplishment where they seem to live and breathe music – albeit not without the frisson of effort. So – you’re asking yourselves – where did these guys spring from, as such a fully formed “act”? Not quite nowhere, as it turns out, but theirs is an unusual back-story. The three young musicians (who hail from North Wales and Yorkshire) actually came together in Beirut in the summer of 2015, following which they spent a formative year performing traditional music and developing their sound on the Lebanese music scene, appearing on Radio Beirut and at some of the city’s foremost venues. Since returning to the UK last year, they’ve become caught up in a whirlwind of festivals and other music venues, invariably stunning audiences wherever they play.

The trio comprises Robin Jones (mandolin, tenor banjo), Will Addison (bouzouki, tenor banjo) and Tomos Williams (guitar) – tall, hirsute lads who also happen to be bold, strong singers. I might be tempted to describe them as a cross between Tanglefoot and Sweeney’s Men (certainly they’re quick to own up to their deep admiration for Andy Irvine, but there are other incidental reference points too). The Trials’ striking presence derives not just from their appearance however, as you’ll hear from the very first flourish on this EP. Their wall-of-sound hits you with its intense driving rhythms, both in the fully animated and charged (and enviably nifty) instrumental prowess and the rousing rapid-fire yet harmony-rich word-attack. While their instrumentation is rooted in the Irish and British folk traditions, they also delight in introducing and mingling eastern-European time-signatures like 25/8 within their catchy melodic contours (though as yet, not on record). Their breathtaking fretwork displays impeccable technique both in negotiating tricky unison melody lines and in spontaneously tricky interactive counterpoint.

And, unusually for a band with so pronounced a traditional-based sound, the source material for their self-penned songs is often decidedly contemporary. The opening track on the EP, despite the shanty-type vibe of its “roll away, haul away” refrain, tells the true story of Matthew Van Dyke, an American who, in the 2000s, travelled the Middle East, filming US troops in Iraq and ultimately fighting with the rebels in the Libyan revolution. Another of the EP’s tracks, Fighting Jack, powerfully voices (directly, in the first person) the disillusionment of a British soldier deployed to fight in the Middle East. Both of these songs benefit from an urgently propelled instrumental backdrop which, while busy and intricately detailed, provides both foil and accompaniment that complements, not distracts from, the staccato of the lyrics – and the lads have the knack of writing catchy choruses too, which prove surprisingly easy to latch on to despite their comparative wordiness. The ancillary theme of predator and prey, common to so many traditional songs, is at the centre of Reynard And The Goose, a canny reimagining of a dialogue between the two protagonists based loosely on a playground game. The EP’s final track is its sole concession to the trio’s part-Welsh heritage; the lyric of Aberdaron sets to a lively jig rhythm the best-known poem of latter-day Welsh bard Cynan (Albert Evans-Jones), which describes his wish to return to that Caernarfonshire location to retire.

The studio sound of the EP gives a reliable flavour of The Trials’ thrusting attack, although the judicious achievement of a fuller overall sound picture – by incorporating guest contributions from Rita Issa on fiddle, Joe Scott on bass and Tom Kenyon on percussion – does tend to marginally obscure, or lose out on, some of the inner detail between the lads’ own fretted instruments that comes across so compellingly at a live gig. But it’s still a hell of a calling-card, and the (I trust) forthcoming full album will surely be eagerly anticipated, for they’ve a healthy abundance of extra material including at least two cracking new songs that they’ve recently premiered at gigs. The Trials Of Cato will surely turn out to be one of this year’s key “bands to watch”.

David Kidman

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