Strawberry Oracle Promotions – Album Review by Longjohn

Strawberry Oracle Promotions

Present 7 releases on a CD- Rom from various labels including, Merlins Nose Records, Alone Records, and Infinite Fog Productions.

What constitutes ‘Neo Folk’? This I was wondering while waiting with some intrigue for an album of what I believed to be a ‘Neo Folk’ compilation. I have to admit I am a little out of my comfort zone with this one, and any knowledge I have of ‘folk balladry’ has been in the form of late 1960s ‘Folk Revivalists’ ‘Pentangle’ and ‘Fairport Convention’. I was expecting an album that featured artists that were tuned into something akin to the late 1960s ‘Folk Revival’. What I got in the post was a CD-Rom with 7 full albums of obscure bands that play broadly speaking ‘Folk’ inspired music. If songs of a pastoral nature appeal to you, coupled with Sitar’s, Lutes, Tabla’s and the ‘Hurdy Gurdy, then these albums will certainly be up your tree lined garden path.

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Barcelona’s ‘Psych Folksters’, ‘Aleppo Pine’ (fittingly named after a Mediterranean tree) gets proceedings underway, and they certainly wear their influences on their sleeves. Those who are familiar with ‘The Incredible String Band’, ‘The Strawbs’ and ‘Fairport Convention’ will find much to enjoy on this album. Songs such as ‘Black Wizard’ and ‘Swan Skies’ will remind the listener of ‘Donovan’ in his full late 1960s hippie pomp. However, ‘Aleppo Pine’ change tack at the midway point on this album and drift into much more heavier ‘Psych Rock’ moments, particularly on the ‘3rd Eye’ with guitar riffing a plenty.

‘Amber’ were a trio who evolved out of the St Albans Folk scene in the 1960s. They were friends with ‘Donovan’ and would often play together at impromptu musical evening in a back room of the ‘Cock Inn’ in the aforementioned town. They recorded ‘Pearls of Amber’ in 1970-71, and the ‘Donovan’ influence is clearly in evidence. Some of the tracks were recorded at ‘Olympic Sound studios’ and more interestingly ex “Yardbirds’ frontman Keith Relf produced at least 3 of the songs, including the lovely ‘Sea Shell Shook Me’ ‘Donovan provided the Sitar, which was previously owned by George Harrison. ‘Pearls of Amber’ barely clocks in at 25 minutes, and the listener should feel lucky to have at least that to listen too, as the tapes were thought lost until their singer ‘Mac McLeod’ found the tapes in his attic, and it finally saw an official release in 2010. The standout moment for me is ‘Sea Shell Shook Me’, which really showcases the vocal talents of ‘Mac McLeod’.

‘Arrowwood’ made the hauntingly stunning album ‘Beautiful Grave’ this year. The first thing that catches the listener will be the dreamy almost whispering vocals of multi instrumentalist Chelsea Robb. The other startling thing on this album is the ever-present wind chimes and bells, which really enhances this rather dreamy and beautifully vague album. Chelsea Robb also duets to stunning effect with Pythagumus Marshall on ‘We are Dark Wells’, and his vocal presence can really be felt in the second half of this album. This is a surreal and almost hypnotic listening experience, and defies easy categorization so I will leave the last word to ‘Arrowwood’, who perfectly sum this album up in one sentence. ‘A dream about a dream within a wood’.

The somberness continues and it is now time to crack open another bottle of Mead while listening to ‘The Glinting Spade’, by ‘In Gowan Ring’. This rather downbeat and melancholy album was released in 1999, and it could be argued that it is in the tradition of male singer songwriters like Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen. Bobin Eirth has a compelling and restrained vocal style, and does not need to use vocal histrionics in order to get his songs across to the listener. Coupled with Bobin Eirth’s wistful and thoughtful lyrics is his stunning finger picking guitar playing, best exemplified on ‘To Thrum a Glassy Stem’.

Austria is the next port of call for literally a one-man band called ‘Im Jahrtal’. Ewald Spiss can lay claim to being not just a multi instrumentalist but also a painter and performance artist. ‘Reprisen & Instrumenta/Stuecke’ is another dreamy listening experience, which comprises of very sparse sounding instrumentals. Despite the presence of so many instruments including acoustic guitar, sitar, violin, flute, the hurdy gurdy, (which gives the album a drone like sound), this is a clean sounding album, even when a bit of distorted electric guitar is thrown in for good measure, every instrument can be clearly heard without any hint of musical clutter.

‘Paths of Prakriti’ provide some Norwegian style ‘Jingle Jangle’ 1960s inspired ‘Folk Rock’ in the vein of ‘The Byrds’ ‘Love’, and for some reason ‘The Blue Things’. Axis Mundi is very mellow and floats along pleasantly enough, without ever really getting out of first gear. There are more overt Psychedelic tracks such as ‘Dark Horse’, and as a fan of the above named bands there was enough here to keep me interested. ‘Norwegian Wood’ this is not, but still a nice diversion away from the medieval tinged folk that I have heard so far.

A concept album brings this CD-Rom to a close, and it is arguably the most haunting music I have heard in a long time. The narrative is that of a European Pagan heritage slowly being submerged by Christianity. ‘Orchis’ are from the U.K and released ‘A Thousand Winters’ in 1996. The music on this album is spine chilling to say the least, coupled with haunting, whispery and ghostly vocals, which really does give the listener the sense of an oppressive unwanted presence, which appears in the narrative of the album. The album is also littered with spoken word parts, which are essential to understanding the idea behind this concept album. This is by far the most ambitious album on the CD-Rom, and worthy of more consideration for those that are partial to dark sounding ‘Folk’ music provided by the ‘Orchis’.

Long John

Charming Chap and a new sharp force for Eyeplug, being a toppermost writer with a keen appreciation for things of quality and distinction. A well known face on the London ‘Mod’ Scene but with an open mind and heart. Got a strange interest in Pirates? One to watch out for!

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Originally posted 2013-08-27 13:25:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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