SKINNY LISTER – A Matter Of Life & Love (Xtra Mile)

A Matter Of Life & LoveSkinny Lister’s A Matter Of Life & Love rocks with a very modern punk (aka rogue) folk pulse. The album is positive proof of two ideas: First, John ‘Babbacombe’ Lee wasn’t the only guy England couldn’t hang; and perhaps more importantly, our very musical universe is both curved and very expansive.

The first song, ‘Shout It Out’ spins its grooves back to the time of The Men They Couldn’t Hang, circa Silvertown. The song is both big and warm folk music with percussion, bass, concertina, earnest (with very British) vocals, and a huge chorus.

Then, ‘Tough Stuff Like Us’ evokes the sound of Billy Bragg—if backed by a deep bass and drum pulse, with the colour of a melodic but rocking piano.

The same is true for the propulsive ‘Shoulder To Shoulder’, with its obvious rabble-rising lyric and protest pumped instrumentation.

And the ante is upped, as Lorna Thomas and Daniel Heptinstall share vocal duties with the dramatic ‘Like It’s The First Time’ that cuts with the ragged folk buzz saw of the brilliant Tansads or the equally wonderful Mekons. Big compliment, there!

Now, it’s just an idea, but A Matter Of Life & Love, while intended or not, is sort of like XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphere’s 25 o’ Clock album, which recreated with tender attention to detail, the psychedelic music of the 60’s. Of course, this paisley pop homage album was so successful Andy Partridge & Company then recorded the double masterwork Oranges And Lemons. Let’s just say, good music is just good music. And AMOL&L stands as a wonderful time capsule soundtrack to all the very British music of the late 80’s and early 90’s, when as said, good music was (and still is) just good music.

That said, ‘Damn The Amsterdam’ is a sea shanty voiced (with percussion) tune that delves into 18th Century history of a doomed ship. As my friend, Kilda Defnut, often says, “Human mishap can often cough up a pretty good tune”.

But the rest of the album is, quite frankly, anyone’s guess. The title track, ‘Matter Of Life And Love’ is pop (near) perfection, with horns, not unlike Roddy Frame’s Aztec Camera, circa their High Land Hard Rain album.  But ‘Embers’ caresses a deep folk root as Lorna Thomas gets a second lead vocal with a warm acoustic backing. And for folk lovers, ‘Bonny’s Eyes’ is even better, with a simple guitar and Daniel Heptinstall’s passionate vocal. This tune is a nice respite in the midst of such diversity in the album. It’s a really nice crystal clear autumnal tune.

It’s just another idea, but in some parallel universe in which children are, perhaps, well fed, yet starved for good music, that alternate Oliver Twist, when hearing this song, would simply ask, “Please sir, I want some more”.

Yeah, it’s a favorite tune.

Ahh – there’s more clever stuff: ‘Bavaria Area’ dances with a ska beat and echoes the sound of (the great!) Elvis Costello, while he was “watching the detectives”. And then, ‘Life At A Loose End’ could almost be Blondie with Debbie Harry. As said, this album, with its divergent and pretty great songwriting could almost be called Anyone’s Guess. But that’s beauty here: Skinny Lister taps into the ethos of the song ‘January Man’ and they sing about stuff that “comes around again” and is “along the road forever”. Indeed, music continues to curve within the expansive grooves of this very modern record.

By the way, my friend, Kilda Defnut, claims the universe spins at 33⅕ rpm.

That’s a really nice vinyl thought.

And then, oh my – ‘Breakfast At Heathrow’ really does conjure a memory of the infamous Pogues, as it pumps melodic folk punk passion. The tune swells with a big (almost) circus vibe. The final song, ‘History’, plays a big dramatic melody that marches with a different and very defiant soulful drummer that punches and punctuates a very fine album with an introspective much marched folk music wisdom that cuts a pretty deep curve into the ever expanding universe, and yet, somehow, always manages to avoid that jolly hangman’s hemp.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website:

‘A Matter Of Life & Love’ – official video: