Jon Palmer must lead the most electrifying acoustic band in the country – we must stage a battle of the bands between them and M***y H**l to test the theory – but that’s for another time. Their new album is Vacca Wall and we’d better sort out the title before we do anything else – it certainly puzzled me. This Vacca Wall is a line of stone slabs marking a boundary near the band’s home town of Otley and, as the songs say, if you want any more you can look it up for yourself.
Acoustic isn’t a misnomer, apart from Iain Cunningham’s keyboards they play acoustically, even Eddy Green’s bass. As always, Vacca Wall is a mix of the personal and the political. The opening, ‘Song For The Dark Days’, finds Jon observing the world around him, contrasting the bird song and the Red Kites circling overhead with the political mess of the country. Through it all Jon maintains a streak of optimism. ‘Refugee’ turns the political into the personal from another viewpoint – “I still love my country but it doesn’t love me”.
‘No More’ is about retirement, a distinctly bitter song, and I keeping hearing a female voice in the narrative even though the narrator is probably male. Jon tried to find a story about the ‘Vacca Wall’ but there isn’t one so he made this one up. It tells the story a young man’s war experience which led to his suicide. It’s a surprisingly jolly tune decorated by Wendy Ross’ violin but the twist comes when the son follows his father to war. ‘Cragg Vale Coiners’ takes us back into history with another nice violin part and ‘Line ‘Em Up’ is a stomping drinking song while ‘Wanderlust’ feels really personal as do ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ and ‘The River Made Me Cry’.
‘Ballad Of An Acoustic Band’ recounts the ten-year history of the band as Jon reflects on the musicians who came and went. He notes that “drummers never last too long” without referencing Spinal Tap which demonstrates great good taste and may reassure Adam Hopkins. ‘Save The Whale’ sounds like an old-fashioned whaling song but, of course, it is nothing of the sort and finally ‘Red Kites Over The Chevin’ takes us back to the beginning with Jon relishing enjoying the countryside around his home – the Chevin is a local hill.
I haven’t mentioned mandolin player/vocalist, Lee Wellbrook, which is very remiss of me since he stands up front next to Jon, nor producer David Crickmore who also plays electric guitar. The truth is that the band is so tight that it can be hard to pick anyone out unless they want to be picked and, really, the songs do all the work. And very fine songs they are – it’s tempting to say that Vacca Wall is the band’s best album, but that’s a hard call to make.
Artists’ website: www.jonpalmeracousticband.com
‘Vacca Wall’ – lyric video: