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  • Alistair Braidwood

Sparrows and Bells…

I’ve been neglecting the newer releases as of late as I’ve been reaquainting myself with my old vinyl and immersing in the joys of playlist building on Spotify. Apart for saving me a few bob, (I’m still beholden to the CD or the second hand when it comes to buying music), I’ve been comforting my ears with the familiar and the neglected. A steady diet of Tom Waits, The Smiths, The Cocteau Twins has been interrupted by a little Win, Fatima Mansions, The Sundays, The Icicle Works and many more. Most prominent has been old Aztec Camera and I”ll be posting an appraisal of Roddy Frame soon, if I can keep it under control.

But this week has brought the new Trembling Bells’ album Abandoned Love and Sparrow and the Workshop’s Crystals Fall and these are worth shouting about. The music of both is veering towards the folk section, but they are very different pieces of music. Sparrow and the Workshop are the most eclectic in their sound and apparent influences. They fit into the current vogue for electric ‘roots’ music that takes in everyone whose album gets four star reviews in Mojo and Uncut. If you want comparisons then it is a little like the collaborations between Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell, but with better melodies, stronger vocals and the drums turned up. However the band they most remind me of is Trespassers William, not necessarily in terms of the sound, Sparrow and the Workshop are more upfront, but in the feel of the music. Here they are with A Horses Grin:

Trembling Bells made one of the best records of last year with Carbeth, and at first they may appear a more straightforward prospect than Sparrow and the Workshop. Actually, their brand of folk music is a more challenging proposition. This is traditional folk music with only the most restrained production applied (congratulations are due to John Cavanagh and Stevie Jackson, who obviously borrowed Belle and Sebastian’s ‘horns’ for this record. No bad thing) and this allows Trembling Bells individual talents to shine through. Lavinia Blackwall’s vocals are from an earlier time. If not quite a madri-gal, at least influenced by singers from the seventies such as June Tabor, Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson.

The band’s playing comes across like medieval jazz. What at first listen seems simply old-fashioned and quaint is actually complex and involving. It all comes together for a wonderful and surprising album. We aren’t used to listening to music like this anymore. It’s Steeleye Span, Trees, Fairport Convention and any other number of, usually English, folk bands that were thought to have been consigned to history. This is authentic stuff. I love both of these new releases, but whereas Sparrow and the Workshop are completely contemporary, Trembling Bells feel out of time. This is Adieu England:


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