Thursday, 24 March 2016


CD Review

Red Diesel

If you have ever seen Pilgrims' Way live then you will know they do not travel light. When you see what they bring with them you expect an orchestra and not the four piece band who are about as multi-talented and versatile as you can get.

Pilgrims' Way
copyright Danny Farragher
Fronted by the wonderfully rich and atmosphere slicing voice of Lucy Wright the band is made up of Tom Kitching, Edwin Beasant and Jon Loomes.
They each use instruments like a gourmet chef uses knives and kitchen utensils to create something special.
Just like the versatility of the fellow band members the elven-like Wright can bend and blend her voice to suit whatever style is needed.
The first album since Wayside Courtesies five years ago opens with Rout of the Blues which introduces you to Wright's distinctive voice and sets out the stall that there is going to be a lot of traditional music from this highly talented band.
Her punchy style of singing, on this track at least, sees her almost spitting out the lyrics over the top of the fiddle.
The throbbing beat which brings in Howden Town and carries the tune right through to the end is matched by Wright giving her singing a harder edge. There is a lovely structure to this with the understated bass giving it a slightly sinister beat.  This is a wonderfully constructed arrangement of the traditional song The White Hare and is one of those songs which is hard to get past, instead of moving onto the next track you want to hear it again.
Maybe Then I'll Be A Rose takes things right down with an arrangement by Les Barker where Wright sings almost A Capella but for the understated use of the guitar and fiddle underneath her slightly more nasal tones which give it that real folkie ballad feel. It really is an incredibly restful and thoughtful piece and a perfect demonstration of how musical minimalism can be so effective. In terms of vocals Magic Christmas Tree could be the sister song to the previous offering.
The only noticeable difference  is Wright introduces a tremble that's a cross between Dolly Parton and Edith Piaf. Again the understated backing of the band adds a real depth and strands of colour to the song, bringing a seasonal feel to it without going over the top.
This is followed by a two-parter starting with the instrumental Mount Hills which gives the band a chance to build a tapestry of sound which weaves in and out with instruments such as the fiddle and mandola adding little gems along the way.
Ride In The Creel is about as traditional as it gets, even containing lyrics such as "too rye ahh, folly diddle dah". This story of illicit sex is a great piece of storytelling both from Wright and her fellow band members, you lose track of the amount of sounds you can hear and as it builds up to the climax, it's just like an enthralling book you are reluctant to get to the end.
The band is back
Beasant's bellows keeps things moving for The Light Dragoon with Wright's voice lightly dancing over the notes like someone skipping over stepping stones to cross a river. As a group they pack so much into their performances you sneakily suspect there are more of them they keep in a closet somewhere.
Being off the scene for so long has done nothing to dull their talent or enthusiasm for traditional music filtered through their own style of playing and arranging. True Lover John is as good an example as any of them on the album.
Wright's slightly shrill style of singing has a rich warmth to it and you get a feel for the enjoyment she displays when performing live.
One thing which also helps Wright standout is she employs perhaps one of the most underused instruments in a folk band's arsenal, the Jews' harp. It can be a very playful and a very evocative instrument and in her hands, while they perform Six Dukes, it adds a real character to what is an almost spiritual song and Loomes' precise banjo playing is the perfect accompaniment. Once more you find your ears racing around the track trying to pick out each of  the warehouse full of sounds they introduce.                                  
When Paul Simon brought out Graceland it had a massive impact on the music world, not only did it introduce a wider world to the fantastic sound of African veteran musicians Ladysmith Black Mambazo but it also showed what a fantastic range of ethnic music had been mostly hidden from wider shores.
This said it's was a brave step for them create an arrangement of Boy In The Bubble. It takes some getting used to, they have made it so different that it needs a couple of bars to recognise the song, but Wright's voice again is just luscious and she cranks up the warble to 11 to great affect.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any better they go out on a real belter with Boston City.  It's a real toe tapper which is crammed with sounds that just engulf you in the fantastic, traditional beat.
The new album
This album is not so much Red Diesel as rocket fuel which should launch Pilgrims' Way back to centre stage where they belong. This album is so crammed full of music you wonder they didn't use a spell like Hermione Granger's undetectable extension charm to get it all in. It was worth waiting five years for but please don't make everyone wait that long for the next album also available.

Red Diesel is out now available from the band's website and Proper Distribution. There is a limited edition run of vinyl copies of the album.

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