GREG RUSSELL & CIARAN ALGAR – Utopia And Wasteland (Rootbeat RBRCD40)

Utopia And WastelandThe ink is barely dry on Greg and Ciaran’s previous album and they are back with Utopia And Wasteland. The mix is pretty much as before; original songs, judiciously chosen covers and three tune sets. The title isn’t just a randomly chosen three words: it is at the heart of the record and exemplified by Ciaran Algar’s ‘We Are Leaving’. There has always been a political slant to their writing but there is a real feeling of suppressed anger here as well as carefully considered ideas.

The anger only really surfaces on the opening track, Gregg Russell’s ‘Line Two’, a bitter skewering of HS2 and all that goes with it: bent bankers, corrupt politicians and overwhelming greed. Here the album title is represented by the utopia of high-speed luxury travel for the rich and the wasteland for the poor whose homes will be bulldozed to make it possible. Next is the first instrumental set, ‘Warwick Road’ with multitracked fiddle and banjo, to remind us that music should also be entertainment.

The third track is the first cover; Stan Rogers’ ‘Lock Keeper’. I sometimes have trouble with Rogers’ covers, his voice with that hint of a Maritime accent is so distinctive. Greg’s interpretation isn’t as robust as Stan’s. Where the original lock-keeper is defiant, Greg’s is initially more thoughtful and quieter in his responses. The song is really about the pleasures of home in contrast with the adventurous life of the sailor and his tropic maids and Greg muses further on the theme of home in ‘Seven Hills’, a song written abroad but full of thoughts of his home in Sheffield.

‘We Are Leaving’ is about the Grenfell disaster but is really about racist views, a theme Greg turns to in ‘Walter’. Walter Tull was a soldier of afro-Caribbean heritage who was a second lieutenant in the Great War and killed in action. Despite repeated petitioning he was refused a Military Medal and such monuments as he has were mostly erected without official co-operation.

Greg and Ciaran don’t really need much support but producer Mark Tucker adds bass, percussion and backing vocals when required. His contributions are mostly unobtrusive but now and again you notice that a song which started quietly has risen to a mighty roar without drawing attention away from the vocals. That’s clever engineering that adds greatly to a very fine album.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.russellalgar.co.uk

‘Seven Hills’ – official video: