LUNATRAKTORS – This Is Broken Folk (own label BKNFLK 1 CD)

This Is Broken FolkThey call it post-apocalyptic folk. Imagine that all technology is gone and all that is left is the human voice and the ability to bang the rocks together – This Is Broken Folk is the perfect title. Carli Jefferson, percussionist, dancer, choreographer and member of STOMP met vocalist Clair Le Couteur in Prague. This doesn’t explain why their debut album was recorded in Ramsgate, nor necessarily why so many of songs are Australian, or at least have their protagonists ending up there.

Let’s begin with how it sounds. Clair has a four octave range and the ability to sing overtones. Their vocals are as well described as an artistic performance as a musical one as they soar and swoop, reaching depths that even Trevor Lucas never imagined. Actually Clair has Australian antecedents so that may not be a coincidence. Meanwhile Carli indulges in tap dancing, body- and tuned percussion and harmony vocals. The only other instrumentation is a hint of whistle and chimes on one track and some seagulls on another.

The album opens with ‘Black Raven’, a translation of a Cossack war song, deep and dark. For the most part it sounds very Native American – inevitable with just voice and percussion, I suppose – until the end when it turns gentle and mournful. Next is ‘Turn Of The Plough’, written by Lunatraktors to mark the anniversary of the Armistice. It employs a very clever metaphor which I won’t spoil for you.

The remaining songs are all traditional beginning with ‘Arthur McBride’. This is a text I’m not familiar with, although the story remains the same, and features Clair’s very wicked upper class British accent which causes a chuckle or two. ‘The Catalpa’ is the first Australian song and one I’ve not heard before. It concerns the daring escape of six Irish prisoners from Freemantle with the aid of an American ship and a whaleboat, a great yarn. ‘Maggie May’ begins in Liverpool, of course, but she ends up as a prisoner in Australia, as do ‘Jim Jones’ and ‘Jack Donahue’.

These tracks were recorded “as live” with a minimum number of takes but the closing ‘Ben Hall’ is expanded to over ten minutes with loops and overdubs. I’m not sure if this is an experiment; Clair and Carli can perform the other songs without much trouble but electronics can be problematic. This Is Broken Folk won’t be to everyone’s taste. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with it and I’m beginning to get it and what Lunatraktors are trying to do – or what I think they are trying to do. Approach with an open mind.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘Turn Of The Plough’ – official video:

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