“The Missing Star” – Lunatraktors

4 stars (out of 5)


Here’s a safe bet. I’m not going to hear anything even vaguely resembling “The Missing Star” this year; Lunatraktors blend of traditional folk instruments and influences with world percussion and even a Korg analogue synth. And nobody played guitar.

Lunatraktors are Carli Jefferson (vocals and percussion) and Clair Le Couteur (vocals with a four octave range, and harmonium, melodica, whistles, Korg Monologue and piano. On “The Missing Star” they’re joined briefly by producer Julian Whitfield on double bass, and Canterbury legend Geoffrey Richardson provides a string arrangement for a cover of the Leonard Cohen song “Lover, Lover, Lover”.

What’s unique about Lunatraktors is the fusion of what are very disparate musical elements to form a distinctive sound they call broken folk – traditional (mainly) English vocal ballad stylings are combined with complex and fractured rhythmic patterns created using a range of percussion instruments from various musical cultures, ambient samples, and augmented with some superb vocal harmonies. It’s a potent fusion and I’m willing to bet it makes for a stunning live performance.

The lyrics are a mixture of traditional, traditionally-inspired and original, dating from the beginnings of the folk tradition to stories of contemporary Britain. The theme linking the old and the new songs is a simple one: rebellion, whether it’s the cheap trickery of “The Exciseman”, sticking two fingers in the face of authority or the anti-establishment fury of the album’s opener, the harmonium drone-backed “Rigs of the Times”. The current government may have made satire redundant, but this song skewers the lying and the hypocrisy of the Brexit process and the handling of COVID perfectly, setting the tone for the album. The political and social anger runs through “The Missing Star”, which pulls together Conservative and Brexit party propaganda from 2020 to highlight the disdain the government shows for anyone daring to disagree with its policies, while “Unquiet Grave” takes aim at Employment Support Allowance, using the case of Elaine Christian, a woman in Hull who took her own life shortly before a medical appointment to assess her eligibility for benefits.

As for the non-political pieces, they range from traditional ballads like “The Blacksmith” and “Mirie It Is (Anemoia)”, an adaptation of the oldest known English folk song, to the experimentation of “Drone Code” (what it says on the tin, a Korg Monologue drone with Morse code singing bowl percussion) and “The Madness that Soothes” a HAPI tongue drum (not a drum played with the tongue) improvisation. So it should be no surprise when the album ends on a musical setting of lines from the first book of Ecclesiastes.

Lunatraktors have a unique vision, combining old and new, acoustic and electronic, and British and world music. Blend that with a searing critique of the current government and you have an album that you certainly can’t ignore.

“The Missing Star” is out now.

Here’s the video for “Rigs of the Times”:

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