Album Review: Keston Cobblers’ Club – One, for Words

By on Friday, 7th September 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Being a music editor that lives in America, there was no way I would escape hearing that Mumford and Sons would be making their first guest live appearance on Saturday Night Live in 3 weeks. As the resident kings of folk in these parts and elsewhere, you can’t call them indie folk anymore. So what is an indie folk fan to do? Luke favours Dry the River; Cheryl prefers Of Monsters and Men. But I think I’ve found a happy medium between the two that manages not to pander its audience and comes out smelling much better than what people have claimed Mumford has become.

Keston Cobblers’ Club, with a name more appropriate for a collection of shoemakers than a group of musicians, is a Bromley-based band invading the territory that was once reserved for Fanfarlo and then later, Freelance Whales. If you like your banjoes and ukuleles well picked and your piano notes well appointed and you don’t mind shedding a tear every once in a while for a touching song worthy of the waterworks, then look no further than the band’s debut album ‘One, for Words’.

Like Fanfarlo and Freelance Whales, vocal duties are shared between male and female vocalists in the form of Matthew Lowe and his sister Julia, the songwriters of the band. Both these voices, either separate or harmoniously together, maintain a fragile honesty, with Julia’s reminding me of a young, innocent Alison Goldfrapp, or perhaps Laura Marling on her first album ‘I Speak Because I Can’. With the masterfully paired male/female voices, I think the comparisons to early Noah and the Whale or even Slow Club will be inevitable, but this isn’t a bad thing. After all, Noah and the Whale has since gone stadium rock/pop, and Slow Club has carved a unique folk / soul niche as of late, so why not let Keston Cobblers’ Club into the borderline twee and folk pop category?

While early support from ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris of Radio2 seems like a given, considering his affinity for country and folk, it was Steve Lamacq’s recent playing of songs off this very album that caught my attention more. The size of Lammo’s weekly accumulated post of demos and albums is legendary, and any band who can boast that Lammo chose theirs above all others through a cold solicitation like Keston has managed is in a very select group indeed, with both ‘Pett Level’ and early single ‘Your Mother’ (video below) have been played on his evening drivetime programme already. If you’re in an up and coming band, the one priceless accolade you want more than anything is Lammo’s endorsement.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvJF56gxAaU[/youtube]

But I’m not here to be a Lammo yeswoman, I’m here to review this album. And what a lovely thing it is. It’s started off serenely with ‘Maybe We’ll Be Heard’, whose title seems all the more apt given who’s championing them. It’s got oom-pah-pah polka-like drums, then an accordion, then proficiently picked guitar and then really nice harmonies. The polka-ish theme that is revisited later in ‘The Curve’, which is weighed down by comparatively too complex lyrics.

‘Pett Level’ is framed by the notes of a gay ukulele and quite possibly some of the most beautiful vocals you will have ever encountered. (The ukulele makes a reappearance in the clap happy ‘You-Go’.) Oh wait. ‘For Words’ follows close behind, and these two songs tie for the absolute highlights of the album. In the case of ‘For Words’, the song reminds me of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’, as it’s being sung to someone held very dear, but it’s clear the two parted in that awful way that relationships do when one party “just wants to be friends”. Emotionally, it’s done such a number on me that I’m now desperate to see this band live. What a fix for a UK music blog editor living in Washington, DC to be in, eh?

In terms of upbeat songs, ‘Your Mother’, ‘Ah, Jaunt Soon’ and ‘Dun Dun Dun’ will hit the spot for Mumford fans. For those of you who prefer a bit of a comedic bent with your folk, it’s ‘The Heights of Lola’ that will make you chuckle. If you prefer your folk stripped down, then album closer ‘The Handless Man’ is your song. ‘Lazy Days’ has the immortal lines “I’ve been thinking about the time we slept together / you’ve been thinking about the time we slept together / maybe we should just jump back into bed” sung with such a sweet naivete, it could make you forget about the last time you were rebuffed by a lover. Almost. Big sigh.

There used to be a joke that all country music was based around sad love songs. While there are a few numbers with slower tempo, there’s nothing on ‘One, for Words’ that will be purposely sorrowful to everyone. That’s not to say you won’t feel the emotions coming out of you when you listen to this album. You will. It’s just the songwriting has been done in a way that is subtle and intelligent.

Listening to the lo-fi ‘Promenade’ feels like you’ve stepped back in time, with its dance hall piano. But since the rest of the album feels more current, it feels like a misstep. In ‘Marley’, the harmonies that came through so clearly in other songs on here nearly get drowned out by horns and a melodica, which does the band no favours. But those two songs aside, this is an impressive debut, feeling like it was written and recorded by a band whose young ages belies their talent. It’s no every day you queue up an album – containing a baker’s dozen of tunes, no less – that makes you ache deeply inside, right? I suspect a tony spot on the Cambridge Folk Festival line-up next summer, if not on Latitude’s is in their future. In the meantime though, get on this album now, so when those magic moments happen, you can be feign surprise around your mates when deep down you can be smug in the knowledge that you knew about them way before anyone else.

9/10

‘One, for Words’, the debut album from Keston Cobblers’ Club, is out now on Beatnik Geek Records. You can stream the album in the widget below, but if you like it, you can buy it from the band’s Bandcamp for the bargain price of 6 quid.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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