There has been a line-up change since the previous Moonrakers’ album with Jacqui Johnson’s cello and harmonium replacing Liz van Santen. This change gives Ebb & Flow a bass voice but also provides the albums opening notes with Richard Fariña’s ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ which is paired with one of Jon Bennett’s own tunes, ‘XR Reel’. You might be surprised that this combination works but it does and that’s one of the delights of Moonrakers’ music.
I’ve previously described Moonrakers as “folk-rock without the rock” and that is still true: the instrumental combination of guitar, bouzouki, whistle and harp with cajon being the only percussion to which Jacqui adds her own talents. They don’t actually rock but they have absorbed the ethos that says that you don’t have to be po-faced about traditional music. The second track is my favourite text of ‘Riddles Wisely Expounded’ and the notes explain the symbolism of bent and broom – I didn’t know that! Next is the pairing of O’Carolan’s planxty ‘Captain O’Kane’ with Jon’s ‘Polecat’, another juxtaposition of a fast tune following a slow one.
They do rock ‘Prickle-Eye Bush’ and follow that with a Manx lullaby, ‘Travelling Fairies’ although I suspect that it would be a remarkable baby that could be asleep at the end. It’s a good vehicle for Eleanor Dunsdon’s harp and Jacqui creating sounds on her cello that I’ve only heard produced on guitar and e-bow prior to this. The title track, ‘Ebb & Flow’, is a tune by Jon which gives him chance to play with a loop pedal with Sarah Fell’s cajon providing an insistent beat.
‘John Barleycorn A Hero Bold’ is a lesser-known version of the story which is less about the cycle of life and death and more of a serious drinking song and the band cheekily nick bits of other tunes for the breaks. I don’t suppose Elgar will mind too much, though, and next comes a pair of tunes from Brian Finnegan performed as a harp/cello duet. I’ve often thought that ‘Polly Vaughan’ is an odd story (the Oscar Pistorius defence) and I’ve always found ‘Crow On The Cradle’ rather unsettling. Moonrakers pair the latter with a Breton tune borrowed from Alan Stivell into which it slips very neatly.
The quartet makes an excellent job of ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’, although I’ve heard it too many times to be excited by it. The album closes with ‘All The Way Home’ which Jon wrote after travelling with Sudanese nomads – it must make an excellent final number for live shows.
Moonrakers have evolved since Tides and Ebb & Flow has a very different vibe. I like them both, each in their own way.
Artists’ website: www.moonrakers.net
Here’s the taster video: