PENNYLESS – Strange Dreams (own label PYL006)

Strange DreamsPennyless are not a band to stand still. Their previous album, In The Park, was three years ago and was heading into folk-rock territory without trying to be folk-rock. I preferred it to its predecessor which I found a little light. Now, with Strange Dreams, they have taken half a step backwards, two to the left and one forwards so this album is not as quite heavy but more intricate. The line-up is the same: Penny Stevens and Les Woods, multi-instrumentalists who write most of the songs, master of aerophones, Graham Dale and Colin Benton playing bass and bouzouki. They are supplemented by drummer Pete Edmondson.

Strange Dreams might be described as pastoral but I think I prefer to say rustic. Yes, its themes are drawn from the countryside but it is the countryside of the farmer and the labourer: hard-working men who still have time to stand and stare once in a while. It begins with a setting of ‘Shepherd’s Tree’, a poem by John Clare who is the subject of a later song. ‘Broken’ takes us into the realm of witchcraft and after the title track comes a pretty little guitar instrumental, ‘The Wren’.

The first of the Palmer songs, ‘A Leaf Must Fall’, is rather lovely and then the album changes gear with the wild ‘Gypsy Camp (Dream Tune)’, a complex interplay between the players that stays just the right side of cacophony. The second song from the Palmer camp, ‘Sweet Slavery’, is rather more forceful than its predecessors as Strange Dreams continues to move into heavier territory – there’s some nice bass from Colin here. ‘Morning Haze’ is Graham’s flute almost solo and then ‘Eels’ is the “folkiest” song here, in the old-fashioned sense of the word – a jolly rural piece that could only have come out of Lincolnshire. The final ‘Three Suns’ takes us back into mystical realms or, to put it another way, I’m not sure what it’s about. It plays the album out with fiddle and flute and probably that’s what it’s for.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Broken’ – live: