Dave Burland may have recorded one of the definitive folk albums of the seventies but he’s always been a rocker at heart as anyone who has been in the same room as Shagpile will testify. Alongside him in The Awkward Squad are two members of that band, Dave Fisher and Bryan Ledgard and their first album, Okkard, is a perfect example of having fun with the music they love.
The big noise here is Fisher on keyboards and steel guitars and I’m guessing that he takes the lead on ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ which is built on piano with three voices on the chorus. The Awkward Squad take it a little faster than is usual with odd little twists in the phrasing that makes it much brighter than the dirge it can become. It’s electric piano that introduces the opening track, ‘Reynardine’ with solid guitar and drums from Ledgard. Burland’s distinctive laid-back delivery adds to the gentle rolling feel of the arrangement. He switches to mandolin for Terry Allen’s ‘New Delhi Freight Train’ over Fisher working the left hand end of the keyboard.
What they do to ‘Country Life’ is quite amazing. A not-quite honky-tonk piano is matched with a sort-of syncopated vocal line and Willie Nelson’s ‘Crazy’ is given a full-blown nightclub feeling with backing vocals courtesy of Chris While and Julie Matthews. It’s not all fun, though. ‘Kitchener’s Finger’, written by Burland, is paired with ‘The Bloody Fields Of Flanders’ and ‘Lamkin’ is as dark a version as you could wish to hear, fleshing out the “mason” storyline.
‘Long Distance Love’ and Steve Goodman’s wonderful ‘City Of New Orleans’ are more familiar territory – this is possibly the best version of the latter that I’ve heard – and I was convinced that the final track, ‘Spencer The Rover’, appeared on Dave’s first album, but of course it doesn’t. As far as I can tell this is the first time he’s recorded it. No matter; it’s a perfect Dave Burland song to bring Okkard to a close.
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‘Kitchener’s Finger’ – Dave Burland live: