Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Stovepony Records

Stovepony Records are an East London-based label who describe themselves as specialising in “, Americana, Blues, Garage, Folk, etc” but who go on to say, “We also like Psych, Metal, Prog, etc... just like any normal person, but not in an ironic way like.” Hmm, not entirely sure what that means, but I’ve received a couple of their latest releases, Waiting On The Outside by Walking Wounded and The Chronicles Of Solomon Quick by The Lucky Strikes. Neither are space-rock, but one I liked very much indeed, and the other I think plenty of blog readers here will enjoy...

Walking Wounded have, it seems, been playing their riotous brand of inner-city gypsy-punk for something like thirty years and have released eight previous albums, though Waiting On The Outside is their first to be commercially distributed. Their frontman, Dr Hugh Poulton, is a human rights activist who has worked in the Balkans and who for some twenty years was Amnesty International’s senior researcher there. That’s informed much of his songwriting here, but the over-riding tone of the songs comes from day-to-day living in Hackney and that’s the real flavour of the album because this is a quintessentially urban, specifically East London, work.

So, whilst Walking Wounded mix a multitude of styles in their raucous and totally catchy music, tumbling gypsy-sounds peppered with country, blues and a healthy pinch of punk attitude, their anchor is in the multi-cultural melting-pot of the East End and they have within them that honesty and camaraderie, so that this record has a real heart beating in it. It’s like party time with a social conscience, and in that sense perhaps this is an album that has some relationship to this blog in the way that Walking Wounded seem to possess a lot of that free festival ethos that’s often written about here.

Picking a few highlights (though most of this album is just really great, infectious, stuff), the opening ‘Vino Ulje Rakija’, the wine for the cheer, though it talks of the scars of war in the Balkans, is still delivered with a gloriously upbeat groove. ‘Pictures’ talks of help for someone who has slipped outside of mainstream society’, ‘when your back slides down the wall / I’ll try and soften your fall,’ and seems to encapsulate in these words a lot of what this record is all about. And the characters of ‘Betwixt & Between/Saturday Night Down The Balls Pond Road’ are sharply drawn, whilst the knowing and playful nudge and wink in the refrain of ‘and it’s a bit of this, a lot of that, you know what I mean,’ absolutely sums up this album.

And, lest this posting becomes a love-in to a really great release, let me just say, ‘Evolution’ (which talks of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace and their work on the theory of evolution), ‘No thanks.’ Not because of the subject matter, just because it sounds like one of those songs performed by a Year Six Junior School class and written by their music teacher. Sorry! The rest is just terrific, though...

The Lucky Strikes come from Essex and the concept album The Chronicles Of Solomon Quick is their second album, though their first for Stovepony. It’s a moody trawl through the gothic Americana of 1930s Mississippi, a fictionalised account of the death of real-life Delta blues legend Robert Johnson, a humid and taut retelling of Johnson’s murder, in legend, if maybe not in fact, derived from drinking Strychnine-laced whisky.

This one’s a bit of a grower, somewhat washing over me on its first play and then starting to get some hooks in on the second time around, though I do think its garage-country-blues-psych-rock will appeal to people here in any case. It’s an album loaded with period imagery that captures its time and place so well that it’s beholden on me to double check, and, yes, this band does still hail out of Essex. As slow and as dense and concentrated as a shot of Southern Comfort in some places, and hard rocking and as coarse as rough whisky in others. I loved the way they’ve captured the seedy atmosphere and, again, how they’ve drawn their characters and pinned-down that whole scene of poverty and desperation, outlaws and chain-gangs. So whilst I didn’t get moved by this release in quite the way I enjoyed the immediacy of Walking Wounded’s album, I heard a lot of stuff within it that worked really very well.

Walking Wounded Official Website

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