Three years after introducing us to them on Ladies And Gentlemen…The Crowband, The Crowman has returned on record with Blackwell, another selection of his self-styled ‘garage-folk’, now fully under the banner of The Crowband.
After an exclamation over the price of the CD, we are introduced to the band and ushered into their world with the surreal and eccentric Uncle Mark’s A Weirdo (in reference, I’m guessing to The Crowman himself, Mark Le Gallez) complete with added Theremin.
After that things settle down somewhat, but the slightly off kilter feel remains throughout, albeit (mostly) in more subtle ways.
The bulk of the album takes things in probably the most traditionally, folk styled direction of any of the band or their leader’s output to date, with bittersweet songs of heartbreak, murder and a surprisingly enjoyable streak of darkness and despair.
Be Still My Heart starts the main run with a familiar, if more developed sound that Black Mary builds on with a terrific acapella opening from Crowman and fiddle player Emma Lancaster.
This ‘first side’ (if we were talking vinyl) rounds off with a bit of a country twang added on Prisoner Of Pain which again features Emma on vocals along with the Crowman, giving a nicely tempered sound but without losing the heart, soul and rawness that is their trademark.
‘Side two’ then begins with another interlude that will mean nothing to anyone outside the Channel Islands, a spoken track called Benest’s Of Millbrook.
We then get some more upbeat sounds starting with Oh Suzanna which adds some great blues harmonica from Shacks, along with the fabulous chorus line of ‘Oh Suzanna, go back to Keighley’ (at least that’s what I think he says).
Different Species is a little more in keeping with side one but has a more direct and impassioned feel before King Of The Werld has a rather pointed feel to it accompanied by a fine swing, as well as the introduction of Shacks on backing vocals.
Then we get a blast of raw, finely distorted, garage folk that sounds like it’s blasting from a broken old radio, with the joyous Woo Woo Song. Even though it isn’t the end of the album, this feels like it is reaching a triumphant crescendo that should get people singing along when they hear it live.
King Of Sark is a brilliant slice of upbeat novelty fun that again packs in the local references and a rough and ready live sound that gives it something of the great community feel that mark the best of The Crowband’s gigs.
Along with that it features the use of the word ‘impecunious’ which frankly deserves some kind of award alone for getting shoehorned in.
Things then take something of a shift as Shacks takes over on lead vocals with Emma for (The Ghost Of Ashley Cartwright) Laughing. This is an evocative and nicely sentimental, bittersweet tribute to what sounds like a specific lost love but also a general one too that paints rich pictures of life in a northern town (but not like The Dream Academy).
It then closes on the spoken word My Name Is Stuart that introduces us to another character in The Crowman’s world (like the inspiration for King Of Sark these are very much real people) that is something of an oddity but in keeping with the whole and fascinating in its way.
Across the album we get to hear more than ever from both The Crowman and the rest of the band musically with a wider range of instruments than ever.
Added to this the production work from Flexagon from Stretchy’s Studio really brings this out whether it’s on the more regular folk style songs or the more eccentric moments but all without losing the back to basics, recorded in an old aircraft fuselage in a shed spirit (whatever that spirit might be, and yes that really is where it was recorded).
Blackwell then comes across with a great energy that makes for a fantastic journey into the world of The Crowband mixing Guernsey and the north of England with traditional folk, garage rock, blues and country to make their most enjoyable record yet.