STEAMCHICKEN – Look Both Ways (Chicken Records STEAM16/3)

Look Both WaysSteamchicken began life as a ceilidh band but have expanded their horizons considerably with a brass section and a powerful vocalist in Amy Kakoura. Look Both Ways is something like their fifth album and is possibly the definitive statement of jazz-folk.

The album kicks off with the powerful spiritual, ‘Jericho’ and follows that with the stunning ‘Brigg Fair’ with the brass and Becky Eden-Green’s clarinet (or is it Matt Crum’s soprano sax?) leading the way. This track is worth the entrance money by itself – if you want to know what can be done with folk music just listen to this. ‘When I Get Low I Get High’ was first recorded in 1936 and later covered by Ella Fitzgerald. Steamchicken mix the sound of a 1930s plinky piano with a middle-eastern feel and it’s another knockout track. The same feel informs ‘Gypsy’, another traditional song that has never sounded like this before.

‘Oh Mary’ takes us back to spiritual territory – with a reggae beat. The cover isn’t terribly helpful so I have to guess that ‘Western Approaches’, ‘Big Tin Horn’ and ‘Foot Falling’ are all Steamchicken originals but they weave so many influences into their music that it’s hard to be sure. Certainly ‘Mary And The Soldier’ is traditional with the best-known version being by Paul Brady.

Look Both Ways is an excellent album, mixing so many styles and ideas in a bewildering stew of exciting music.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

Not a great video but a great song. ‘When I Get Low I Get High’: