MATTHEW EDWARDS & THE UNFORTUNATES – The Birmingham Poets (December Square)

Birmingham PoetsIn The Birmingham Poets, a follow up to 2017’s Folklore, Birmingham-born Edwards describes the titular word minstrels as “amusing but unexpected guests who eventually ruin your dinner party” and who “graffiti the walls with romance languages.”

Again sparking thoughts of Bowie and Brel in his pastoral baroque cabaret conjurations, there’s also an ex-pat Gallic pop flavour to the moody self-absorbed opening ‘Besides Myself ‘(on which wife Jennifer gets to sing some pointed lyrics about her other half), that shifts from the previous album’s occasional echoes of Berlin to a bohemian Paris and is perhaps more early Steve Harley filtered through Roy Harper than thin white duke. ‘Bad Design’ is a choppier pop riff with some circling 70s psychedelic guitar touches and Dagmar Krauss on vocals while the album heads into a decaying fairground in search of musical textures to unfold the tape of Anthony Bold (“he likes to pretend he’s as bold as brass with the hoi polloi or the underclass, quoting Marx in council flats”), Danielle Cawdell and Kirsty Griffith providing what Edwards calls his Greek chorus backing vocals.

‘Desire Is A Witch’ is, perhaps, the most akin to early Bowie although if you listen closely you might hear some hints of REM in there too mixing with the tumbling folk rock chords and chorus. Karl gets another nod with the seven-minute, intimately and emotively sung dream state socialist childhood memoir ‘Sons Of Marxist Fathers’ (“at the cathedral in the back streets, mom handed out her pamphlets”) erupting at the four minute mark into a brooding slab of Floydian industrial guitar from Craigus Barry, the vocals disappearing distantly behind the squalling leviathan.

Sailing over the rooftops in to Birmingham to bring broadsides and protest songs, the rather lovely ‘Our Boldest Daughter’ strikes an airy, folksy love song note where The Lilac Time trade photographs with Vinny Peculiar and David Roberton sets the theramin shimmering before a false ending leads to the instrumental playout with Chris Cundy on bass clarinet.

The slowly loping title track arrives on Davey Graham guitar notes, namechecking local writer Charlie Hill and Lonny Montem duetting on vocals on a song that again refers to his relocating from San Francisco back to his hometown. Which, by way of no particular coincidence takes us to the scat, theramin and bass intro to the glorious swayalong cascading chords summer and cynicism pop of ‘California, Can You Wait?’ complete with its fluttering electric guitar and ba da ba backing refrain.

Dagmar Krauss gets to duet on the last two numbers, first up ululating “I was never there” on ‘The Rag Trade’, another number that shares a striking musical kinship with the melancholically romantic kitchen sink reveries of Vinny Peculiar, himself having strong links to Birmingham, as well as sharing the crease with Roy Harper’s old cricketer. And, finally, ‘We Think The World Of You’, a loving memory of his father that, aside from the opening verse, comprises Edwards and a female chorus simply repeating the title line to a strummed guitar and mellotron. One of the finest albums you’ll hear this year, bard none. They can wreck my dinner party anytime.

Mike Davies

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‘California, Can You Wait’: