ALBUM REVIEWS: Stick In The Wheel, Shovel Dance Collective & Black Ox Orkestar | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Three albums, all rooted in folk but all taking it in intriguing and powerful directions with more to say about the present and the future than about any idealised past. Three outfits – by turns ongoing, new and reborn – operating at the height of their powers and way beyond the confines of any genres.


Stick In The Wheel – Endurance Soundly Caged (From Here) 4/5
I’m almost running out of new ways to describe how vital (in both senses of the word)
Stick In The Wheel are, each new album or mixtape a deeper, richer expression of their mission. Endurance Soundly Caged is a ‘live in the studio’ capture of the recent concert incarnation of the ‘medieval Kraftwerk’ – a rhythm section of Siân Monaghan on drums and George Hoyle on bass joining Nicola Kearey’s often treated vocals and Ian Carter’s guitar and electronics. The six tracks here run the gamut of their sound, from the clapped and rousing Bedlam to the sci-fi short story of Robot. Their recent mixtape Perspectives On Tradition demonstrated a whole new avenue of possibilities and I can’t wait to hear what they do next. Until then, this all-too-brief document of a band in motion is plenty.



Shovel Dance Collective – The Water is the Shovel of the Shore (Memorials of Distinction) 5/5

Shovel Dance Collective’s music and the way they operate is rich in important ideas – about queering folk music, about upsetting false narratives, about exposing lazy notions of British folk as essentially white, about finding new or lost meanings in old music – but that doesn’t make it didactic or joyless. The Water Is The Shovel… is unlike anything else you’re likely to hear this – or any other – year. The album’s four long pieces carry nautical or water-themed traditional songs along as part of an utterly immersive collage of field recordings, the songs rising up as if emerging from the Thames. There are fragments of melodies heard from a distance, the sounds of industry and seafaring, shanties and rounds, elements of what sounds like traditional Indian music. There’s an innovation and experimentation here that makes sense when you realise there’s an overlap between SDC and Caroline, another collective doing something utterly radical with often traditional forms. This is breathtaking stuff.



Black Ox Orkestar – Everything Returns (Constellation) 5/5

Black Ox Orkestar are back after a 15-year absence and sounding absolutely gorgeous. Born out of the fertile Montreal scene that gave us Godspeed You! Black Emperor and its various offshoots, the quartet released a pair of albums in the noughties before going on hiatus, and surprised everyone by re-emerging this year. The B.O.O. sound is rooted in Jewish folk music – klezmer in particular – and has a warm, rich, deeply melancholy sound, augmented by lyrics in a variety of languages, primarily Yiddish, that take in civil war, diaspora and trauma, both historically and in the world on fire all around us right now. This is the saddest music in the world and it makes my heart hurt, and even if most of the song’s meanings are lost to me, the pain they express is all too evident. Breathtaking.

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