All We Have Is Now
It would be easy to do a double take when you first fire up the new album from Elephant Sessions, because you could readily think someone has slipped a funk album from the 90s into the sleeve.
However, it’s not too long before the more traditional sound of the mandolin is joined by the fiddle for opener Wet Field Day.
Euan Smillie and Alasdair Taylor keep things moving at a fairly sharp pace and create a sound which further blurs the lines between the folk and pop sound, so much so that on occasion it’s a hair’s width from leaving the folk realm altogether.
It seems the Inverness quintet of Smillie and Taylor along with Mark Bruce, Seth Tinsley and Greg Barry are determined to create a sound which fluidly flows over genres without showing any joins.
Even the opening of the following track, Lament for Lost Dignity, could easily be mistaken for a Jamiroquai intro. It’s the picking of the mandolin which again grounds it to at least some of its roots in the traditional camp to produce what is a pleasant and easy going instrumental which opens out to a much fuller sound in the last quarter.
The military style drum intro to Misty Badger is the precursor to the gentle, lilting and slightly jazzed-up sound of Smillie on the fiddle, who changes tack around halfway through. He produces a much punchier sound, carried along underneath by the bass.
Showing their versatility, Dirty comes in with a face-paced, middle-eastern-style cadence and moves through the bars with a sense of urgency before pulling up like a pursuit where the characters have lost the scent only to pick it up again with the same sense of haste.
Summer is a much more delicate tune, almost understated with a lighter dancing lilt to Taylor’s mandolin picking which is accentuated by the slightly tinny sound of Barry’s cymbals.
|The band's debut album|
There are times when it sounds like a slower version of the opening track but the whole thing is wrapped up with funkier synth sounds and more percussion. Although there is a lot going on, it is a fairly insipid track which lacks colour or character somewhat.
The brooding intro to Tingles, which lays the path for the jagged sound of the fiddle, is a much stronger track. The fiddle takes control but has the almost indiscernible support of the mandolin both of which are pushed along by a strong throbbing backbeat.
There is a cool and retro interlude about two thirds in which could easily be a homage to Lalo Schifrin, the creator of so many memorable film and TV tracks from the 70s.
Fran’s is a far more traditional sound with the strings creating a thoughtful and evocative opening sequence. It’s the longest track on the album and arguably the most memorable. The fiddle is helped along by a subtle and almost tribal drum beat.
Smillies' elegant use of his strings, along with the underlying rhythm from Bruce, makes this a genuinely reflective piece of music and it deserves to be the longest track on the album.
The band jumps back on the jazz-funk tracks for I Used To Be A Good Boy. The mandolin leads proceedings with the definite picking of Taylor pushing things along with impressive and skilled fingering.
The album goes out on Doofer which kind of sneaks up on you and, while the mandolin is the engine, the electro backbeat keeps pace with some more impressive string picking. This is also the track where the traditional is pretty much left behind with the instrumental sliding away into something more commercial sounding.
|The new album|
There are a number of bands out there at the moment trying to take to the next level what groups such as Fairport Convention started.
The only danger is that the more modern sounds and techniques dilute what is supposed to be music rooted in the traditional then the less likely it is that you are going to end up with anything definite, a little like putting different coloured paints onto a canvass and then mixing them all together until you get that muddy, brown mess when no one can tell which colours were used.
Elephant Sessions are good at what they do, their skills as musicians are unquestionable and they are definitely pushing the boundaries which distinguish musical genres, what remains to be seen is if the resulting amalgamation leaves the listener discerning the roots of the music or simply scratching their heads.
All We Have Now is available now from the band’s website.