Like many during the pandemic, the Welsh folk rock outfit, Rusty Shackle, found music a way of deepening their connections and of the joy and release when they were able to come together again person. As such, Under A Bloodshot Moon their fifth album, bristles with hope and optimism, while, musically, it digs further into their Celtic influences as well as touching on notes of classic rock.
Anchored by a circling drum pattern, with tumbling chords and fiddle, ‘The Devil’s Pulpit’ kicks things off with a song about the many temptations likely to lead us from the path of righteousness and into “inferno and the underworld”, though musically it does invite you to go “knocking at Lucifer’s throne”. A shout out opener, another circling rhythm, ‘Lanterns’ picks up the idea of not succumbing to the darkness, nodding to the links that unite us in the line “I connect with people/We’re all alike/At the end of the tunnel/We can share the light” and the call to resist the lure of darkness with “You can be the fuse now/To spark the day/You can be the lantern/To light the way”.
It’s back to temptation to wreck you on the rocks of “sins we didn’t know we had” for ‘Song of the Siren’, with its echoes of 70s prog rock, and of how easily “a spoken word can bring us down”. But amid the fear of the reaper’s summons, there’s also defiance (“I’m glad that, I’m not perfect/The skeletons were worth it”) in a declamatory chant midway.
Led by a rousing fiddle, ‘Love Is The Answer’ opens with a pretty negative view of humankind (“We are just monkeys loaded with money and guns/Chasing our tails and causing destruction/Gambling with our lives and all our liberties/Freedom comes at a price of our vanity”), but again they grab the end of the rope of optimism and pull hard (“We’re broken but I know that we can make it if we try”) because, “city blocks hold saviours firmly out of sight” and, well, check out the title.
Referencing Lost in Translation and Bill Murray as well as namechecking places like Kamakura and Nakana Broadway, the acoustic fingerpicked and mandolin sprinkled ‘Lost in Tokyo’ heads back to a week in 2017 “just letting off steam/Wandering the streets, full of neon dreams/No sleep for a week”. And so it goes, ‘The Rain’ with its moody string arrangement and 70s psychfolk colours striking a timely note in the wake of recent weather with “How long have you waited here?/For the rain, the rain to come”, extending the metaphor of relief and hope with another nod to old Lucifer (“The Devil might be calling/
But he does not know your name”) and supporting one another (“Call me when you’re feeling/Like the world is caving in”).
Making the best of things would initially seem to be the core of ‘Not This Time’ (“You get a job you know, and it don’t pay/You take what little coin they give you anyway”), only to reveal itself (throwing up thoughts of The Strawbs) as a song of standing up against those who would exploit in the defiant “Not this time, I won’t co-sign/I decide what is mine, you won’t leave me behind/Not this time, I will not crumble”.
By way of a different musical pathway, the galloping uptempo ‘The Stranger’ leans into spaghetti Western soundtrack territory, another number about social injustice (“Quarantine those who have morals/And heap praise on those who have none”), while ‘Gallows Song’ kicks back into mandolin-led punk folk with its urgent driving rhythm and a lyric that harks back to the opener in how, even when we realise it’s wrong, we’re drawn to the dark rather than the light (“I’ve got a million different people that I know I want to blame/A million different reasons why I know that I should change/And I’ll be heading to my grave before too long/We all show up to the gallows song”). But, with the sinewy, brooding ‘Blood and Thunder’ again it seems love is the answer because, while “The strength of our steel is measured in fear/As doubt leads us into the night… To right all your wrongs, first accept where you are from/And let your heart know where to go from here” because “Nothing makes me feel alive quite as much as you”.
An acoustic guitar chug carries ‘Ghost’ with its pizzicato mandolin and need to be metaphorically reborn (“I need you to pick me up/Heart and soul, well you fill me up/Make this faded body feel alive …If you’re not with me/Then I’m make believe”).
While, complete with studio chatter, the jaunty shantyish ‘Listen Boy’ is tacked on as a bonus, it officially ends with, first, the stripped back rippling notes of ‘The City’s Heart’, another about connections (“I reached out to you/And you reached back at me too”) and support (“You know I’ll be there/To pull you back again”) and, finally, the nimbly picked semi-anthemic ‘Coming Home’ that, with its shifting time signatures and from whence the title comes, closes with one last song about being drawn to risks (“There’s a signpost warning me of dangers that I cannot see/But danger’s where I find my delight”) but of finding salvation and home in each other (“The memories they hug me, I don’t feel alone/The feeling that we get when we are going home/I feel home – and together when the sun is shining down”) and music shared between the artist and the audience (“Did you miss me, like I missed you?/Never knew how much until I played a new tune”).
The title refers to the colour the moon appears during a full lunar eclipse, and in keeping, the album reminds that while the sun may be hidden for a while, it will eventually come out again.
Artists’ website: www.rustyshackle.com
‘The Devil’s Pulpit’ – official video: