Historical, socio-political, agri-folk pop does not form a massive section in the local music shops, but if Watchword, the latest album from Mr Love and Justice, is anything to go by, it’s a genre that deserves much more attention. On the surface many of the songs, such as The Shilling Folk, seem to belong to a slightly twee pastoral dreamtime, a place of maypoles and markets, cow byres and barns. A place that seems to only exist in the back catalogue of the likes of Fairport Convention, the books of Richard Jeffries or Thomas Hardy and the rose tinted memory of grandparents. But on closer inspection you soon realise that there is a lot more going on here than Andy Warhol’s oft misquoted adage of being “farmers for fifteen minutes.”
When the darker underbelly of the songs are examined you find a more serious topics being examined, topics that are normally found on albums by The Oysterband, Chumbawamba or The Men They Couldn’t Hang. It becomes obvious that song writer Steve Cox is not only musically astute but also historically and politically aware, covering subjects relating to the frictions between the old agricultural based society and the advance of Industrialisation. The Chartist movement and the Tolpuddle Martyrs may not seem like the most immediate subjects for songs but this album works, by god it works!
It certainly helps that these normally dusty subject matters are given brilliant musical vehicles to carry them along. Dovetailing traditional folk structures with sumptuous, accessible and slightly retro, pop sounds, this unlikely pairing of genres pays dividends. Some of the vocal arrangements could have come straight off of The Byrds seminal album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, whereas Blood and Oil has the dark urgency of a Midnight Oil protest song. The album has a few numbers that seem more reflective and personal, such as Never Know Why and Sunday Morning, Sunset Town but these don’t distract from the fact that this is more or less a concept album…just when you thought that it was safe! But this is no flamboyant prog-odyssey. It’s a lean and succinct musical message about this country’s past.
With the great and good of the local (and not so local) scene making up the ranks and adorned with Ken White artwork, this is a local album but with a global message. It may start out as just an album of good music but hopefully it might make a few of you reach for the history books to uncover the bigger stories being referenced here. Learning was never this much pleasure when I was at school.