THE MOONBEAMS – This Land (Moonbeam Records MBR003)

This LandThe Moonbeams band forms the core of The Moonbeam Collective, a multi-platform arts community based in the Yorkshire Dales. This Land, the band’s third album, is once again rooted in that landscape, linking up past and present, rural and industrial.

Apart from the closing song – a jaunty lunge at the traditional ‘The Yorkshire Tup’ in praise of Swaledale sheep – all the songs on this album are the band’s original compositions.

The hammer and brass intro to ‘The Flags Beneath Our Feet’ followed by the whirl of whistles on ‘This Land’ make a promising start. The lively ‘Gathering Day’ counts up sheep whilst ‘Ginny Bickerdyke’ turns out not to have been the local “witch” of many childhood rumours and dares. The banjo intro to ‘Syke As Thee’ prefaces an old-time love song – with a surprising electric guitar break towards the end. And if it’s surprises you’re after, have a listen to ‘Slow Down’ where spacious, dub guitar underpins Nick Cave-like semi-spoken vocals in a tribute to slow living. (The suggestion to “take a slow train” did induce a wry smile as Greater Anglia’s finest crawled through the Hertfordshire countryside: it wasn’t at all relaxing).

The core band members have been supplemented by different musicians and instruments on each album to date, and this one is no exception. Instrumentally, there are some interesting things going on, with shades of country, pulses of reggae-influenced syncopation, blasts of electric guitar and even a small brass section. Jen Haines’s smoky, earthy viola frequently resonates with mediaeval tones, and Mark Fletcher’s whistles occasionally stray into folk-horror territory, as on the oddly creepy ‘My Girl From The North Country’. This eclectic, often quite raw-sounding, mix insinuates itself into the spaces between the words.

For it is a wordy album, with a strong storytelling urge and some skill in evoking particular scenes and moods. The free-flowing lyrics, though, can threaten to overwhelm verse and melodic integrity. Occasionally undershooting the available rhythm, they more often lean towards the over-stuffed and squeezed in. A rather limited range in the vocals also, over the duration of the album, creates a generally dampening effect on the melody line, and on some otherwise interesting and diverse material.

Su O’Brien

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