Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Innocent Left Review

Gilmore & Roberts
Navigator Records

Ok, this is the third album from folk duo Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts who, in general, play fiddle and guitar retrospectively, both contributing vocals. Since their first release in 2008 they’ve steadily increased their fanbase, through impressive Radio 2 award nominations and nationwide tours alongside Fairport Convention, as well as performing in other much loved projects.

I have to be upfront and say I am no fan of folk music. That is some sweeping statement, I accept, and genre is rather irrelevant these days anyway. What I have enjoyed about Gilmore & Roberts in the past is that they have stuck to what I see as fairly trad-folk roots, but adapted them to their own style. Regardless of my tastes, I can admire that especially against a backdrop of the popularisation of folk-pop (Mumford & Sons, that girl that is always on Radio 2, and the rest). If nothing else, there was always a sense of honesty to their work.

The Innocent Left sees this approach continued. A selection of guests appear across the record performing anything from flugel horn to lapsteel, showcasing not only the diverse productions touches, but also the regard the duo are beginning to be held in by a wider folk community. But at the core, the songwriting is sharper then ever, with a distinct set of Pop dynamics drawing a tight leash around the kind of folk self indulgencies that can sometimes infuriate me. Shuffle & Deal, which features Larkin Poe, is a classic, subdued and ghostly number and is quickly followed by Louis Was A Boxer, a Jamie Roberts tale about a chap who would often come into the Subway Jamie worked in. It’s an understated number that focuses on the minutia of life, and equally the joy of simple storytelling through song.

My appreciation of this album was helped no end by being present at its launch in Barnsley (Jamie hails from there). The elements of folk I don’t enjoy: unimaginative structures and lyric themes, plodding self indulgence and yawning over-sincerity were joyously absent and the essence of the tracks played, and present on this album, shone forth. This is deeply technical music, but is driven by a passion of expression, which I think is a tricky line to walk. The album itself is certainly well paced and balanced. A fairly pop structured first half gives way to a pair of instrumentals and a traditional arrangement before working towards the playful close of the impressive The Stealing Arm.

The musical dexterity on show and the rich vain of folk past and present means this record will undoubtedly be popular in folk circles. But for me, despite containing elements of both, it isn’t folk and it isn’t pop. But it certainly isn’t folk-pop either. It’s cleverer than that, but also much simpler; it’s a great record. Uplifting and thoughtful, irrelevant of how deeply you choose to experience it.

Dean Freeman

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