“Going Back to the Sky” runs through a variety of musical styles covering the Americana genre fairly comprehensively but there are a couple of things that remain constant; the first is the theme of the album – it’s the wide open spaces of the centre of America and the people that inhabit this world. The other constant is RB Morris’s smooth, honeyed vocal delivery which feels almost effortless as he delivers his finely-crafted tales of life on the road on what he calls his ’dustbowl record’, speaking metaphorically.

If there’s a single song on the album that exemplifies RB Morris’s abilities to create a powerful song from a trivial-sounding event, it’s “Missouri River Hat Blowing Incident”; on a stop to commemorate his first crossing of the Missouri river, his hat is blown away by a gust of wind. After (eventually) chasing down the hat, the chance comes to look around with wonder at the epic scale of the prairie landscape. It’s a tip of the hat (pun intended) to Tony Joe White, not for the first time on the album, punctuated with Greg Horne’s moody pedal steel fills; it’s the perfect road song. “Montana Moon”, the longest song on the album, also nods in the direction of Tony Joe White, with sparse instrumentation depicting a freezing night on the road, literally and metaphorically running on fumes while using talk and memories of better times to survive the night.

Although at first sight the album looks quite hefty at fourteen tracks, three of those (“Prelude I”, “Somewhere’s West” and “Prelude II”) are tone poems clocking in at under a minute, either setting the scene or, in the case of “Somewhere’s West”, acting as a coda to “Montana Moon”. Interestingly, these are the work of the other musicians on the album, not RB Morris; the songs are the work of a gifted songwriter, but the instrumental settings certainly help them along.

Picking out individual songs isn’t easy, but here we go. “Under the Cigar Tree” is a bit of fun (that happens on the road as well) with mariachi rhythms and instrumentation, while the title song has a country-rock styling and perfect harmonies as it runs through a few tempo changes. It’s also ambivalent; it can mean going back to old haunts or leaving this life altogether.

“Going Back to the Sky” is an album that doesn’t give up all its secrets at once; it’s well worth listening a few times to capture some of the finer nuances of its lyrics and arrangements.

The album is out now on Singular Recordings (NTRB202001).

Here’s the video for “Red Sky”:

Tim Grimm released the single “Gone” at about the time of the American election last year as the third of a trilogy of singles about the Trump era. It could have been a very angry song, but Tim pitched it as a regretful look at the hypocrisy and viciousness given free rein by the contentious president number forty-five. Now it’s one of the pillars of an album that’s suffused with loss and leavened by a sense of rebirth and renewal.

The one exception to this mood is the (presumably) autobiographical “Cadillac Hearse” which rattles along in the style of vintage Johnny Cash with acoustic guitar and mandolin fills and walking bass and tells an uplifting coming of age story set in rural community in America in the sixties where the hearse doubles up as an ambulance. It’s the bit of rollicking fun that throws the rest of the album into a stark contrast.

The album opens and closes with a full arrangement and a stripped-back version of the song “A Dream”, which establishes and then reinforces the theme of the album. “A Dream” is a poignant, elegiac story of loss, linked to the song “Laurel Pearl” by the lyrical reference to ‘the girl with the funny name’. “Laurel Pearl” moves on from a dream evocation of loss to a genuine story of a life ended too soon. This isn’t the only link between songs on the album; “Joseph Cross”, the story of the death of a Native American man with an incredible history, was written by Eric Taylor, one of the three songwriters mentioned in “Dreaming of King Lear”, who died during the pandemic.

The other two songwriters Tim pays tribute to in “Dreaming of King Lear” are Michael Smith and David Olney (who quoted the ‘blasted heath’ speech from “King Lear” on his final album “Whispers and Sighs”). The opening line of the song also echoes the opening of Jackson Browne’s “Before the Deluge”. “Laurel Pearl” is the heartbreaking story of the death of a child, which feels strongly linked to “A Dream”. The message isn’t entirely sombre; the line ‘you’re part of every living thing’ hints at renewal and the happy memories live on. The sense of peace and renewal reverberating from the previous song “25 Trees” (where the tree planting represents things that will carry on after us, while books on a shelf represent a history that has already endured) is strengthened. And there’s the obvious link between trees and paper.

“Cadillac Hearse” aside, “Gone” is a very gentle album with delicate folk stylings that allow the lyrics to shine through and the themes of renewal and moving on are enhanced by having the next generation, Connor and Jackson (Tim’s sons), contributing to the album. It was never part of Tim Grimm’s plan to release an album in 2021, but “Gone” is timely. There’s regret and a bit of anger for the events of 2020, but also a calm realisation that we must move on and create our future. That’s a message I’ll happily endorse.

“Gone” is released in Europe on Friday September 10th.

Here’s the video from “Dreaming of King Lear”:

It’s difficult to review a Rod Picott album without mentioning Raymond Carver. There we go, that’s out of the way now, we don’t have to go back to that, valid as it is. “Wood, Steel, Dust + Dreams” is in the category of ‘Great idea; will it actually work?’ (spoiler alert – it will). The great idea was to take the twenty-five songs that Rod had co-written with childhood buddy and long-time collaborator Slaid Cleaves and rework them as a record of their collaboration. And there’s another interesting idea; the two-disc collection will only be available on CD. No, downloads, no streaming; you buy the album directly from Rod and no-one else takes a slice of it. Or, even better, you could go out and catch him on his UK tour (details below) and put some money in his hand personally in exchange for two CDs. It’s a nice way to get your music fix.

The title of the album sums things up neatly (although ‘rust’ could have featured as well). This album is packed with American blue-collar songs; we’re not taking Manhattan or Berlin, we’re dealing with people doing back-breaking manual labour in the rust belt and busting out at the weekend, drinking, racing cars or gambling and you can feel the authenticity running through every song. Running to twenty-five songs over two CDs, it’s a lot of songs. As our Northern reporter, Steve Jenner, used to say about “Sandinista”, you need a packed lunch for that one. There’s no filler; they’re all great songs and the list of musicians on the album is very impressive – Will Kimbrough, Matt Mauch, Lex Price and Neilson Hubbard are all on board, with Hubbard producing and there’s even a guest harmony from Slaid Cleaves. The production is very light touch, creating ambient soundscapes that pull the attention to the songs and Rod’s ‘groaning wound of a voice’ (his own words) and the raw power of the songs.

It’s subjective and a bit tricky to pick out favourites, but here are a few of my personal highlights. “Rust Belt Fields” tells the story the America sold when corporations discovered cheaper labour in Mexico and China and the impact it had on the workers and towns left marooned as the jobs evaporated; it’s despair and the knowledge that there’s no recognition for hard work. Two songs sitting side by side on CD Two are perfect demonstrations of the power and subtlety of the songwriting; “Drunken Barber’s Hand” is a menacing view of a malign force guiding the world, while “Primer Gray” is a perfect example of a song working on two levels. It’s a straightforward story about someone escaping from the grind by racing his car at the weekend. All the attention is paid to the engine and the body work and paint job is irrelevant because it doesn’t make the car faster. On another level, it’s about the music business (and humanity in general); all the glitz in the world can’t hide a hollow centre.

If you want a masterclass in songwriting and delivery, you don’t need to go any further than “Wood, Steel, Dust + Dreams”. Simple stories about real people delivered with the minimum of fuss and maximum of heart.

“Wood, Steel, Dust + Dreams” is out now on Welding Rod Records.

Where do I start with this one? The obvious I suppose; this is I See Hawks in LA’s lockdown album. This is the one where they discovered all of the ways of working that didn’t involve being in a room together, courtesy of Tim Berners-Lee. Rob Waller, Paul Lacques, Paul Marshall and Victoria Jacobs jumped in at the deep end and explored all the possibilities and opportunities on offer. The change in working methods and the broad church of Americana in the twenty-first century make “On Our Way” a very eclectic album indeed, incorporating elements of psychedelia, sixties pop and Southern swamp rock alongside the more usual country rock and string band arrangements. There’s a strong Byrds influence running through the whole album with twelve-string guitar featuring heavily and some gorgeous harmonies.

The album even has a pandemic song, the incredibly catchy and hook-filled “Radio Keeps Me on the Ground” which builds from an acoustic guitar intro, goes through the gears and finishes with the full band including Hammond B3. It’s an uplifting and optimistic look back at a particularly difficult year. The songs that move away from I See Hawks in LA mainstream are what gives the album its originality and depth. “Mississippi Gas Station Blues” is a grungy lo-fi, Canned Heat-inflected lope with a growling vocal, while “How You Gonna Know”, at over eight minutes long, is a constantly evolving take on a Tuareg chant with ambient sounds and general weirdness. “Know Just What to Do” is a heavily Byrds-influenced piece in triple time with chiming twelve-string and reversed guitar phrases. I’m not saying I’m endorsing this, folks, but these songs probably work better accompanied by some weed.

Victoria Jacobs gets her own song, as a writer and singer, on the album and it’s a little gem with a feel of sixties pop filtered by St Etienne. “Kensington Market” is about a visit to London in the eighties and has a dreamlike quality that works perfectly with Victoria’s vocal. There are a couple of interesting songs about historical figures; “Geronimo” tries to get inside the head of the Native American leader in later life, while “Kentucky Jesus” praises Muhammad Ali for his political and spiritual achievements rather than his boxing. Both are thought-provoking pieces.

“On Our Way” is a fascinating mix of mainstream Americana with psychedelia and a bit of grunge for good measure, topped off with Rob Waller’s mellow lead vocal and some lovely smooth harmonies. You certainly won’t be bored by this album.

“On Our Own Way” is out now on Western Seeds Record Company (WSRC – CD015).

Here’s the video for the title track:

“All About the Timing” is Roland Roberts’ debut album. That came as a bit of a surprise, because there’s a self-assurance about the ten songs on offer (all Roland Roberts originals) that show experience and maturity not often found on first albums. If you want one word that sums up the album, it’s gentle. The musical arrangements, whether they’re string band, country or blues are uncluttered and unrushed, the humorous songs are gently humorous and even the politically-themed “Wake Up”, about America’s profit-driven healthcare system, is less a call to arms than a polite invitation to smell the coffee. And that’s why it hangs together so well; nothing’s forced or strained and everything is there for a reason.

Roland’s wanderings around the United States before settling in Alaska are reflected in his songs with references to Toronto, Colorado, Portland and Lincoln, Nebraska and musical stylings from across the North American continent. There’s even a couple of songs in triple time. The melancholy country song “Don’t Tell Me Goodbye” uses the time signature to emphasise the plaintive feel of the song (along with fiddle, harmonica and pedal steel), while the uptempo string band arrangement of “Keep Movin’ On” uses the triple time lilt to enhance the forward-looking message of the song.

Gentle humour plays an important part in the mix of “All About the Timing”. “Sittin’ in Nebraska” is a light-hearted take on John Fogerty’s “Lodi” theme of being stuck in Nowheresville, “Being Me” is a self-deprecatory piece with a reminder to be true to yourself and “Rambling Joe” is the story of someone taking that advice to its logical conclusion set against a string band arrangement with tight harmonies. “Picture on the Wall” takes a light-hearted look at growing up and growing away, picking up on a theme running through the album that we can’t ever stop moving. Among the other highlights of the album are “Lonely Blues”, featuring some lovely resonating Wurlitzer electric piano and the country rock of the title song with the simple message that, in life and relationships, however well we plan, our plans will be disrupted.

This is an album that’s easy on the ear, seducing the listener with subtle playing and arrangements before slipping in a surprise like the unexpected ending of the final song “Keep Movin On”:

Well your folks never liked me and I never knew why

I’d done nothing wrong, all I could do was try

So imagine my heartache when I found it was true

That the reason that they didn’t like me was you’

“All About the Timing” delivers the lyrical punches when you least expect them, contrasting the realities of life, particularly a musician’s life, with subtle and delicate stylings. It’s a contrast that works throughout the album, creating a piece of work that satisfies on musical and lyrical terms. You can’t argue with that.

“All About the Timing” is out now in the UK on Happy Life Records.

Here’s the video for the title track:

Here’s an interesting one. The Foreign Films is the nom de guerre of Canadian multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Bill Majoros. He’s been around for over two years and worked with some very well-known and influential artists. He’s probably the opposite of most of the artists we feature on Music Riot; his work isn’t about authenticity and roots, it’s unashamedly about creating gloriously uplifting, hummable and foot-tapping pop tunes in the same vein as The Feeling in the UK a few years ago or 10CC a few more years ago.

Bill Majoros is in a line of pop creators from Jeff Lynne, Pete Waterman, Guy Chambers and others who know how to steal a lick or a hook from somewhere and turn it in to their own creation. It’s not a criticism, all three of those songwriters have been incredibly successful commercially, creating pop masterpieces for themselves and other performers. There are many ways of creating songs and each one is acceptable when it’s judged by the results.

“Starlight Serenade” is the second album by The Foreign Films to be released in the pandemic and once again demonstrates the ability of artists to adapt to changes in circumstances. If you can’t bring musicians in, you play everything yourself and you use technology to create orchestras and choirs, which is exactly how “Starlight Serenade” was made. Most of the musical settings are fairly busy and a couple, “Angel in Disguise” and “Photograph of You”, have Spector-like Wall of Sound arrangements, while the rest of the album has its roots firmly in fifties/sixties/seventies classic pop. Sometimes it’s subtle hints and sometimes it’s complete pastiche like “The Mystery of Love” which is pure fifties/sixties doo-wop with piano triplets and almost falsetto lead vocal. If you think you can hear an influence, then you probably can. “All the Love You Give” hints at the sixties Honeybus classic “I Can’t Let Maggie Go” with the intro from The Fratellis’ “Chelsea Dagger”, “Many Moons Ago” is a nod towards The Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” and “Rainbows” feels a lot like “Here Comes the Sun”.

“Starlight Serenade” is looking resolutely backwards to a couple of decades in the middle of the last century when pop songs were catchy, upbeat and full of hooks. It’s all about creating songs that are uplifting and, let’s be honest, we could all do with some of that at the moment. Listen and smile.

“Starlight Serenade” is out now on CURVE MUSIC (SNVY82).

Here’s the video from “All the Love You Give”:

Not so much of an album review as a dispatch from the front lines. Since his serious health difficulties five years ago, Phil Burdett’s become the prolific polymath of the Thames Estuary. He’s always been a singer-songwriter of the highest calibre as a live and recorded artist, but he’s broken out of those shackles since with 2016 by publishing and performing poetry, writing prose, directing film and doing some painting as well. The latest news is that he’s released “Tall Tales from a Low County”, a companion piece to last year’s “Folkmares” album with a similar theme of the East End Essex diaspora, the demographic transition from London’s dockland to the estuarial towns, old and new.

“Tall Tales from a Low County” features two long-term Phil Burdett collaborators, Steve Stott (playing fiddle, mandolin, banjo and ‘weird guitar’) and Colleen McCarthy (piano and vocals). Alongside Phil’s contributions on guitar (including, unusually, a bit of electric), programmed percussion, organ, accordion and some digital orchestration, they create soundscapes that match the meandering progress of the Thames and various points along its course. And you’re never too far away from some birdsong (or even seagulls) and tidal susurration along the way.

As with all of Phil Burdett’s albums, you can listen on a superficial level and thoroughly enjoy the experience, but the deeper you dig into the lyrics, the more satisfying it becomes. Phil puts the time into researching his themes; if you do the same you’ll enhance your experience of the entire piece, pulling together history, sociology and geography to tell some of the human stories of the river that made London and the south-east, from its meandering source to its meeting with the North Sea.

“Tall Tales…” opens with an ethereal exploration of London’s lost rivers, “Hush River Blind”, the arrangement conveying the menacing, claustrophobic atmosphere of subterranean rivers in culverts under England’s capital, all ultimately feeding out into the Thames on its journey to the estuary in the same way the songs broaden out to cover the lore of the river and the people that exist in a state of mutual dependence with it. I won’t force-feed you my opinions of every song (just take my word that they’re all good) but I will pick out some of my favourites.

The second song “Lighterman” has more space in its arrangement led by Phil’s chiming acoustic with the accordion (Phil again) and fiddle creating a sea shanty feel emphasised by Colleen and Phil’s layered backing vocals. The slow pace reflects the speed of the job done by the lightermen (now largely vanished), who moved the cargo from ships moored in the Thames to the shore (usually unpowered) before the heyday of the docks and their subsequent decline as a result of container ships. It’s a song in praise of people who did a highly skilled job using mainly the tides until a ‘better’ method evolved.

“Plotland Pioneers” is Phil Burdett at his very best, combining personal memories with social history in a slow country rock  setting with a subtle combination of electric and acoustic guitars capturing a 1979 vibe perfectly, which is used as a narrative framework to timeshift back to the end of the nineteenth century, when land around Laindon that was uneconomical to farm was auctioned off in plots and bought mainly by people from the East End and developed as holiday or retirement homes. The infrastructure was non-existent (and don’t even ask about planning permission), but somehow the pioneers made it work until the area became part of the Basildon New Town project and was demolished from 1949 onwards. There’s even a reference to the companion album, “Folkmares”, slipped in there as well.

“Bow Bells, Shoebury Gun” is in the same mould, combining the progress of the river to the North Sea with a very personal spoken word memoir of childhood days in Basildon. It’s taken at a very leisurely pace as it drifts backward and forward in time and place, creating a haunting feel and a sense of displacement and exile. There might even be a slight nod in the direction of Leonard Cohen with the line: ‘Where are the cracks through which the sunlight shone now everything is gone?’ It’s a tour de force.

Almost everywhere you look on the lyric sheet (oh, the packaging’s superb as well, with stunning photography by Robert Shaw), there’s an interesting reference: Joseph Conrad, William Blake, the Great Dock Strike, the Crow Stone and London Stone (the Thames boundaries of the City of London) and so on. And could the line ‘The union’s gone and the chancer’s beer is tasteless’ be a reference to anyone other than Tim Martin? I do hope so. At a time when curmudgeonly old musicians are making songs in support of the anti-vaccine lobby and COVID deniers, maybe it’s time to listen to a songwriter that still has something interesting to say and an interesting way of saying it.

“Tall Tales from a Low County” is out now and you can show your support for a genuine British original by buying it here. Phil’s playing a gig to launch the album in St Mark the Evangelist Church, Southend on Saturday September 11th and I hope I’ll see you there.

And the rest of the news? Phil’s directorial film debut is ongoing (with cameo appearance from Wilko Johnson as a vicar) and the third album of Phil’s Cornish trilogy is now in pre-production with studio recording coming up fairly soon. He’s not hanging about.

Here’s a video clip for “Lighterman”:

Malcolm Holcombe is one of those songwriters who is quiet rightly revered by music fans and fellow-songwriters alike. He’s been releasing solo material for twenty-seven years now, and the quality of his work never dips; he just goes on writing, playing, beautifully crafted songs in his own country/blues/rock style, singing them in his own distinctive cracked drawl. It’s powerful stuff, even before you get to the lyrical themes of the of the twelve songs on this album (with a bonus thirteenth on the CD version).

Malcolm has been prolific recently with six albums in the last six years despite serious health problems and that small matter of a pandemic. “Tricks of the Trade” marks a progression from his recent work. The addition of electric guitar to Jared Tyler’s string armoury adds a harder cutting edge to the arrangements while Malcolm’s lyric have more of a political edge this time around, which shouldn’t surprise anyone after the events of the last eighteen months.

Musically the stylings move across the roots spectrum from the lap steel-led old country of “Misery Loves Company” through the uptempo acoustic “Crazy Man Blues” to the country rock of “Damn Rainy Day” (with a similar theme to Paolo Nutini’s “Pencil Full of Lead”). Jared Tyler’s electric adds some punch to the album’s closer “Shaky Ground”, while a cello line adds pathos to the love ballad “Lenora Cynthia” and “Higher Ground” has a pumping bassline that evokes the Talking Heads classic, “Psycho Killer”. It’s a strikingly broad musical palette.

The lyrical edge of the album comes, typically for Malcolm Holcombe, with the allusive and indirect political references, leaving the listener to wonder what they actually heard. Just two words in “Higher Ground”, ‘slumlord whitehouse’ convey the Trump genealogy. Donald Trump’s father Fred Trump built up the property empire that the former President inherited and was attacked in song by Woody Guthrie over racial discrimination. That’s a lot of meaning packed in to two words. And while we’re talking about presidents, “On Tennessee Land” highlights the short-sightedness of voters in the Southern states, recalling Lyndon B Johnson’s comment: ‘If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket.’ The title song can be interpreted as a commentary on political trickery or, like the opener “Money Train”, the machinations of the music business; there are always layers within layers in Malcolm Holcombe’s songs.

“Tricks of the Trade” is the real thing. Malcolm Holcombe has taken his very personal songwriting style in a more political direction while still retaining the subtlety of lyrical expression that typifies his work. Take the time to peel way the layers and you’ll find a very satisfying album that will stay with you.

“Tricks of the Trade” is released in the UK on Friday August 20th.

Here’s the video for the opening song “The Money Train”:

You can’t deny that the last couple of years have been difficult times for musicians, but the creative impulse won’t be stifled. Artists will take the clay that’s available and use it to fashion their creations. The Trump years spawned many memorable albums, then musicians found different ways of working through a pandemic with very little personal interaction to help the process. Steve Dawson’s raw material for “At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree” came from a different place. Following a family tragedy, he took an extended sabbatical to decide whether he wanted to continue writing and performing. A songwriting retreat with Richard Thompson and Patty Griffin gave him the answer he needed and he found his clay (mainly) in his own personal experiences.

The album’s quite unusual in that it’s almost entirely the work of Steve Dawson; there are no co-writes or covers and only three other musicians make cameo appearances. Apart from Alton Smith’s piano on a couple of songs, Michael Miles’ banjo on “The Spaces In Between” and a Diane Christiansen vocal on “We Are Walking in a Forest”, every hook, lick and vocal is Steve Dawson. Quite apart from the instrumental versatility, showcases Steve’s vocal range from the easy, languid tenor into high falsetto. Steve’s voice evokes the classic American west coast country rock bands, sounding at times like Don Henley or Randy Meisner and there’s the occasional nod in the direction of Jackson Browne as the album pulls off the trick of sounding vaguely familiar while constantly introducing new ideas and sounds.

The settings for the songs are pretty laid-back, with nods towards sixties/seventies soul in “This Is All There Is”, psychedelia in “Beautiful Mathematics”, Crazy Horse in the title track and Jackson Browne on “Hard Time Friend”, which has a breakdown and restart two-thirds of the way through that feels a lot like the last section of JB’s “The Late Show” (one of Springsteen’s favourite recorded moments). The musical settings are incredibly varied, with some interesting keyboard instruments appearing (mellotron and dulcimer for a start), creating the perfect ambience for each of the songs.

The album could easily have been a fairly depressing experience, with songs about COVID deaths and forced positivity (“This Is All There Is”), dysfunctional families (“She Knew”) and the limitations of the forgiving gesture (“Forgiveness is Nothing Like I thought it Would Be”), but Steve leavens the mixture with the resoundingly upbeat “22 Rubber Bands”, a song about his love for his daughter, and “Hard Time Friend”, dedicated to his friend Diane Christiansen, celebrating the friends who are with us through times that are good or bad, happy or sad. There are two bonus CD and download songs which didn’t make the vinyl cut for reasons that have nothing to do with quality; “You’re Trying Too Hard”, which nails fake authenticity, and “However Long it Takes”, a reminder that we can always choose to see the good things in the world rather than the negativity which so often surrounds us.

Twelve tracks, fourteen if you buy the CD or download, and each one with an interesting arrangement and lyrics conveying ideas that are important to Steve Dawson, as they should be to all of us. It’s ironic to think that this bunch of songs were created by someone who had started to doubt his creative abilities.

“At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree” is released on Pravda Records (PR6419) on Friday July 16th.

Here’s the animated video for “22 Rubber Bands”:

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”: