GILMORE & ROBERTS – Documenting Snapshots (GR! Records GRR009)

Documenting SnapshotsFive years, a pandemic and two children on from A Problem Of Our Kind, the title of their sixth album succinctly captures its reflective tone and themes of change. Katriona on fiddle, viola and mandolin and Jamie on everything else save for bass which is handled by Tommy Fuller, Documenting Snapshots opens with ‘I, Burnum, Burnum’, a song by Jamie that digs into the story of Harry Penrith who, at the age of three months, was forcibly taken from his Aboriginal parents as part of Australia’s infamous assimilation policy towards its indigenous population, become one of the Stolen Generations. Going on to become a sportsman, activist, actor, and author, in 1976 he changed his name to Burnun, Burnum (Great Warrior) in honour of his great great grandfather and is celebrated for planting the Aboriginal Flag on the White Cliffs of Dover on Australian Bicentenary Day, 26th January 1988, and issuing the Burnum Burnum Declaration, satirically claiming England on behalf of the Aboriginal people just as Arthur Phillip had done to his homeland in 1788 when  the First Fleet arrived with the first British colonists. Initially featuring a sparse repeated guitar pattern and electronic shimmers, it gathers strength and power as it builds, the instrumentation mirroring the sentiments of the lyrics.

Katriona steps up next with ‘I’ll Take What I Can Get’, her airy strings-coloured tribute to her late aunt Pauline and companion piece to ‘Things You Left Behind’ on the previous album, that again build as it goes as she sings of how dreams can bring comfort for those grieving those who have passed when time gradually wears away actual memories.

Returning to Jamie, opening with staccato guitar stabs before fingerpicked mandolin arrives, and with Katriona on harmonies, ‘Blackwater Falls’ is a traditional, descending chords folk-shaded number based on a story from The Darwin Awards which honour acts of spectacular stupidity, in the case that of Dr..Bob, a West Virginia  town doctor in the 1800s who, on account of his insomnia, would place a handkerchief soaked in chloroform on his face and ask his wife to remove when he had fallen asleep. Rather rashly, he was also a philanderer and when a teenage girl left a baby on his door step claiming it was his, his wife somehow ‘forgot’ to remove said hankie.

‘Your Home’ returns Katriona to personal matters and dreams in the first of two motherhood songs, referencing wearing the same dress to both a wedding and a funeral and the idea of her yet unborn first child being ‘buried’ safely in her womb and of her subsequent pregnancy with their second, and a pledge of a mother’s love (“If you need a safe space to run to…If you need to see a kind face/Someone who loves you to hold you/I will always be your home”).

It’s back then to historical matters and traditional colours for Jamie’s ‘Workshop Of The World’ which, with its mandolin, banjo, clopping percussion and emulating the lurching rhythm of a weaving machine, recalls how Manchester took a stand against slavery and, during the American Civil War, despite the great hardship they suffered, the workers in its mills refused to work with slave-picked cotton.

Despite its title, the ruminative piano ballad ‘Sisterhood’ is actually written and sung by James (Katriona on harmonies), originally created for ‘Good Blood’, a dance theatre production by two sisters, family friends, for which wrote the accompanying music, the number speaking of the warrior and the healer and the bonds that hold us together.

The second kiddie-inspired number, Katriona’s ‘Harriet’s One’, a gentle fiddle and guitar instrumental, was written in celebration of the first birthday of a friend’s daughter. moving on then to a personal contribution from Jamie on ‘With A Man I’ve Never Known’, a reflective musing on a day spent cataloguing the paintings of Katriona’s late professional artist grandfather, Jergen Sedgwick (known as Morfar, Danish for mother’s father) as he sings about “documenting snapshots of a life within a frame” and how “You can feel him there deep within the textures and the tones”, and connecting how “if it hadn’t been for him I’d not be sat here today with you”. The sleeve notes feature artwork from his painting ‘Football At Dunwich’.

The pace shifts significantly with ‘Change Your Tune’, a driving bluegrassy chug with fiery fiddle from Katriona and rousing chorus that, sung by Jamie, again draws on real life in telling the story of Daryl Davies, a Chicago-born Black American piano boogie blues musician and activist who has spent some three decades engaging with members of the Ku Klux Klan in an attempt to change their views, actually convincing many to denounce it.

Sung in English despite the title, the mandolin-flecked, slow waltzing ‘L’Inconnue De La Seine’, penned by Katriona and the last of the originals, is again based on a true story, here that of how, in the late 1800s, a unidentified young woman drown in the Seine and a mortuary worker made a life mask of her face which, in the 1950s, became the basis for the creation of the CPR doll known as Resusci Annie which, following his participation in CPR training, Michael Jackson subsequently referenced in his lyrics to ‘Smooth Criminal’, the training line “Annie are you okay?” the final words as it gathers to the big finale.

Documenting Snapshots ends with a cover in their interpretation of ‘A Little Bit Of Everything’ by Dawes, sung unaccompanied save for a background drone to mine the emotions as it moves from a would be suicide on a San Francisco bridge to an old man in a soup kitchen line and a bride contemplating her upcoming marriage with the message that there’s no simple answer to life, but it is indeed made up of “a little bit of everything”. A stunning curtain call to a magnificent album.

Mike Davies

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‘I’ll Take What I Can Get’- official video:

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