When talking about their current single, The Mission Field, I compared The Payroll Union’s musical stance to that of The Band’s breaking with the expectations and fashion of the day and mining a wholly different seam. Whereas the latter were happy to inhabit that older world, the former are more interested in describing it, the difference between historical re-enactors and academics, I guess.
I say this because although they may look the part, their musical tools seem rooted in the present even if their subject is the riotous times of early 19th Century Philadelphia and it’s reactionaries, brawlers, preachers and rabble-rousers. The authenticity of their tales shows up in the fact that not only was the album made in collaboration with the History Department of the University of Sheffield, their home town, but also comes with a lyric sheet augmented by stacks of historical footnotes. It is safe to say that they know their stuff.
Many bands would take the obvious route of picking up fiddles, banjos and mandolins to stamp some sort of perceived musical authority on the subject, The Payroll Union, however, chose to create a heavier, gothic Americana vehicle for their songs, one forged in a unique place where The Bad Seeds and The Handsome Family overlap. Songs such as The Winter of ’41 and The Mission Field burn with a rabid intensity that is no less mesmerising even after you have played the album to death, and you will, believe me.
This album already sounds like a future classic of the Americana genre and I can imagine that there are certain parties over in the former colonies who hate the fact that this band came not out of somewhere apt such as urban Pennsylvania or the rolling landscape of West Virginia but from an unlikely former steel town in South Yorkshire.