Having released a fairly subdued EP during and titled Lockdown, the Celtic rock quartet storm back with guns blazing for their fourth album, everything bar two traditional tunes being self-penned. Awaken opens, Caitlin Barrett’s fiddle firing away and punky guitars chugging, with the anthemic call to arms of ‘Awaken Now’ as Paul O’Neill references the refugee crisis (“They land half drowned on beaches with their babes/Telling tales of this war we wage/And a thousand liars swear it’s all a lie/While a million souls flee their homes or die”), attacking the hypocrisy of so called democracy and declaring “ask not what you nation needs to do/The conscience of your country is down to you”.
Beginning with pizzicato strings, there’s a driving urgency too with ‘Shine’, Barrett harmonising as the fiddle builds in intensity alongside the riffs and the inspirational defiance lyric (“you rise above he broken hearts/You walk across the shards of glass.. you reach for the mountain/Nothing can stop you”), followed by the first traditional instrumental, ‘Phoenix’, a lively six-minute plus fiddle and electronic drone piece that evokes the wildness of Ireland’s west coast where much of the writing as done.
Jim Smith’s bass and Barrett’s vocal wail set up the musically jagged and staccato ‘Stanhope Street’, a reflective love song (“we shone like the sun in our sixteenth year/Our fields were green, nights were dark”), recalling meeting by the chip shop on the street corner, the song dipping into an echoey, almost psychedelic passage midway. Then comes the chugging riff of the punk-folk ‘Jenny’, relating the fate of the homeless titular character (“As I always do, I found her lying there, and shop window made her look small/Her smile was massive I heard her cough under footfall whispered through their curses”), a reference perhaps to Springsteen in the line about “two tramps on the run” giving way to the bittersweet “Jenny isn’t homeless anymore”, having “taken on a new address” in death, the number ending on the reminder that we are all connected as O’Neill sings “Take my hand in your hands/All that I have done/All that I become, is you”.
By contrast, again riding a bassline chug, ‘Freedom Song – Storm’ is a celebration of life inspired by the vast landscape of The Burren in County Clare, another anthemic offering (“Stronger than mountains/Richer than gold/Strength of our love/Never growing old”) with the chorus line of ‘Ride on the sky with me” custom built for festival crowd singalong. Then, switching approach and digging into traditional roots, ‘Let Me Roll’ is an a capella love song to Ireland of a shantyish persuasion with overlapping vocals delivering another upbeat resolve in the face of bureaucracy (“To all of you people who beat on the goat/Rosin your bow, oil up your throat/The message you carry is a message of hope/Freedom gets tied up with red tape and rope”), and corruption (“All laws that are made by those who pretend/To care for their country/Are laws the can bend./To fill up their pockets with silver and gold”); the line about the goat obviously referencing the skin of Irish drums rather than animal abuse.
The line about swimming in the waters flows directly in the sound of waves at the start of the second six-minute instrumental ‘Rise’ with its fiddle-led evocation of a hooley down some Irish pub. It’s back to social comment (“Profit is the spark to burn up the Earth… Out do your brother, sell out your sister/Power is a terrible sickness/The more you get the more you need”) with the riff driving punk-folk ‘Business’ which, as some reviews have noted, conjures The Stranglers, Barrett’s fiddle substituting for Dave Greenfields keyboards.
Awaken ends as it began in questioning form with Barrett initially taking bluesy lead over the bass throbbing intro for ‘The God Song’ before O’Neill takes over with a semi-spoken country-toned swagger as he declares “Next time I’m talking to God, I’ll give him a piece of my mind/Your angels are thin on the ground, these devils are way too kind”, asking “why some people have everything, others they have not”, and ranging between issues of Creation, Armageddon, misogyny and “did you have any on the side? Was Mary the only one?” ending, in the era of fake news, wondering if Lucifer was framed and, if so, “Now who does your dirty work?” I think you can tell from the album who that might be. The Sex Pistols once sang “There is no future/In England’s dreaming”. The Roving Crows are ringing the alarm clock bell.
Artists’ website: www.rovingcrows.com
‘Freedom Song’ – official video: