Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Men They Couldn't Hang - Devil on the Wind Irregular

The further adventures from the quarter century of driving punk fuelled folk on this first album for several years, returning for troubled, intolerable and intolerant times perhaps? Once again into the fray swing the twin rough drink / smooth chaser combination of Phil Swill and Stefan Cush, mixing sweet traditional melodies carried on winds of strident lyricism and personal internal narratives related round scarred campfires against background warning fires of international and local issues, as they've done since their earliest days. No quick under-contract knees-up this either, and this English band of renegade rabble-rousers should in no way be a found as a destitute folk-flecked footnote faintly etched in some outlying rock formation at the edge of a cratered country field. Coming of age in the hard-left Thatcher-hatchet political turmoil of the mid-eighties TMTCH may not have cracked the critical and commercial crags of The Pogues or The Waterboys, though the frequent lyrical and musical landscapes and atmospherics they conjure is equally, easily as enchanting and affecting as either and neither an accident nor contrivance. Give or take the occasional iconic crossover chart-anthem and quoteworthy, catastrophe-courting, crazily charismatic frontchap there is much to compare with Scott and MacGowan's works. That that applies here too, as well as with Steve Earle, especially on the returning vet lament of Reservoir, also adds further to this release's cachet of contender for album of the year, alongside and subtly surpassing Ricky Warwick's Belfast Confetti - not least by having another head to head by the title track vying with Warwick's The Arms Of Belfast Town for track of the year. Violin tapestries of eastern overtones swirl through the opening title track, a sort of updated Sympathy For The Devil for the current climate with the narrator cropping up in various epochs from Babylon through Byzantium, Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander and midway through the crusader piece Overseas plays the past of a sort of companion piece. It's no twee symbol that you can a'most positively hear seagulls reeling round the forlornly lovely Mrs Avery as much as taste the bittersweet air of nostalgia on Heartbreak Park or the menace and pangs of desolation and despair encroaching The Ragged Shoreline. Bobby Valentino's violin throughout the eleven tracks is as windswept and high lonesome, swooping and soaring as Steve Wickham's with The Waterboys, and is deserving of special mention in this dispatch, adding to the standing of the already majestic bearing of this set above and beyond the basis of mandolin, guitar and occasional accordion and piano accompaniments. Though on the surface they may not be as rough n' rowdy as their initial mid-eighties break for freedom, initially the raggedy songs that bookend the album appear the more spirited, there's plenty of joyfully rousing moments as on the sha lalalala chorus of the sad-eyed though not low-lying Aquamarine and the fuzzy rockabilly railroad shake of A Real Rain Coming, never mind the ecstatic ire on the already raved-on title track and Reservoir or the seemingly slight send off / stalker's ode Lost World and sweetheart of the towpath Byrds-call of Hard To Find. A cursory glance of closer inspection, if any should be needed, will effectively demonstrate that the ferocity of yore is plainly present, it's now just/simply/merely even more of a barely contained squall of the bittersweet and seething, here a sure sign of control and comfortable confidence not one of suffocating scant ideas under cloying production. A special, passionate spell.
Stu Gibson

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