Lunatraktors burst onto the national scene with their debut album followed by a fine EP. This coincided with the start of the current crisis and at a more auspicious time we would have been flocking to see them – something I’m still looking forward to. Carli Jefferson and Clair Le Couteur’s second album, The Missing Star, seems at first hearing to be even more experimental than their debut, This Is Broken Folk. Of course, we don’t expect any artistes to stand still and there is plenty that sounds familiar but a lot that is new.
They open on familiar ground with ‘Rigs Of The Times’, a song that has long lent itself to updating in order to accommodate whatever is top of the socio-political agenda. They do a splendid job of eviscerating the government. Next comes ‘My Witch’, adapted from a 17th century verse. There has always been a spookiness about Lunatraktors’ music and this fits their style perfectly.
The third track, a cover of ‘Lover, Lover, Lover’, certainly came as a surprise but it shouldn’t have. Carli’s percussion echoes the Latin feel of Leonard Cohen’s original and Geoffrey Richardson’s string arrangement owes something to the 2010 live version. I’ve listened to all three recordings and what Lunatraktors have done seems perfectly reasonable now. The strangeness begins to creep in with ‘Mirie It Is’, adapted from a 13th century song with an arrangement for singing bowl, cymbal and double pipe.
The title track brings us back to 21st century politics. The lyrics are taken from speeches and comments on the Brexit debate. The missing star is the gold one that used to sit on a blue flag. Clever, eh? ‘Drone Code’ is a brief interlude performed on Korg synth and singing bowl which sort of sets the scene for ‘The Keening’ derived from an ancient Irish tradition. While on the subject of death, ‘Unquiet Grave’ isn’t the traditional song but another attack on this heartless government. Co-producer Julian Whitfield joins the duo on double bass and the song first appeared on the Bonefires EP. ‘The Exciseman’ is a traditional 19th century ballad in which an officious jobsworth gets his come-uppance and I’m all for that.
Also from Bonefires comes’16,000 Miles’, an Irish-Australian song of emigration which precedes ‘The Madness That Soothes’, another interlude played on a HAPI tongue drum (something like a steel pan turned inside out). Penultimately, ‘The Blacksmith’ is an almost conventional take on the song – allowing for some vocal gymnastics by Clair – and the album closes with a setting of ‘Ecclesiastes 1, 1-18’ from which came the phrase “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”. I can’t help but think that it’s included to serve as a warning to us all.
If you are already familiar with Lunatraktors, The Missing Star won’t disappoint. If not, be warned that it takes time to settle in but it will be worth it.
Artists’ website: https://lunatraktors.bandcamp.com/
‘Rigs Of The Times’ – official video: