Tuesday, 24 September 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: The Orphan Brigade - To the Edge of the World

The story began in Octagon Hall Kentucky (a place so near yet so far on a personal scale) before crossing the ocean to a cave location in Osimo Italy. With two instalments of this musical odyssey complete, attention switches to the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland and the next chapter of The Orphan Brigade making a new kind of field music for the twenty-first century. Who knows whether this project is a calculated journey or a creative whim, but the results of absorbing the lure of a single location in the sponge-like medium of music and song continues to conjure delightful treats to a growing audience. The emphasis of the last phrase falls in line with the band trio of Joshua Britt, Ben Glover and Neilson Hubbard being in a fortunate position to finally tour an Orphan Brigade project. So before we submerge into what TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD delivers, two important dates for the diary are: September 27 - release day and October 2 - UK tour opener. Oh, and a Birmingham gig at the Kitchen Garden on October 7.

The album consists of eleven core tracks supplemented by a brief ‘Pipes Intro’ setting the scene, a midway placed instrumental and the title track ‘To the Edge of the World’ getting a short reprise in the latter stages courtesy of children at a primary school in Glenarm. As an entity, the album glides through thirty-eight minutes of your precious listening time, and similar to the other two releases, best enjoyed with some form of notes addendum to provide insight that adds to the mix. If you bought into the two previous Orphan Brigade albums - Soundtrack to a Ghost Story and Heart of the Cave, the new release will slot into your repertoire with ease. The landscape and theme may be different, but the experimental and innovative approach to making contemporary folk music is intact alongside the fascinating stories. Of course new converts are welcome aboard at any time (with or without attaching the previous work) especially those up for a slice of broadening insight on their musical menu. 

The Orphan Brigade has long called on the services of their fellow musicians, mainly summoned up from a Nashville community that puts a refined edge on music synonymous with the city. Joining the fray this time is legendary  singer-songwriter John Prine, who duets on the pre-release promoted track ‘Captain’s Song (Sorley Boy)’ and leaves a familiar mark. Also there is no harm in tapping into the pool of a legend’s reach. 

Early thoughts on this album mulled over a leaning to a greater instrumental focus than its predecessors. Perhaps the impact clouded this judgement, but one to consider if you have accessed the previous work. Essentially, the soundtrack adds weight to any visualised attempt to fill a blank canvas in your mind with the locations critical to the images and feelings the trio set out to convey. 

The substance of any Orphan Brigade album is in the stories yearning to be told. Historical accuracy lodges alongside mythology  all captured in the winding words of three songwriters already deemed masters of their craft in a bulging back catalogue. 

No album with intent is going anywhere without tune and structure ensuring the listening experience is one of aural pleasure. TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD meets this essential criteria early on with ‘Banshee’ and ‘Under the Chestnut Tree’ making strong cases for stand out moments. The first of these is so reminiscent of ‘Trouble My Heart (Oh Harriet)’ from the first album, and not just its ghostly feminine content. A fruitful venture considering its comparative piece is a time tested Orphan Brigade classic. 

A big factor in first being attracted to The Orphan Brigade was the American history angle explored in their debut album. Whilst dislodging this preference from the perch is a tough task, both subsequent records have aroused interest in areas outside the usual periphery. Maybe it’s a credit to Britt, Glover and Hubbard that they immerse into, and project their subject in such a consuming way. 

Vocally the album appears to be dominated by Ben Glover, maybe subject to a little subconscious bias partly due to more familiarity with his solo work and the distinction it leaves when in full flow.  

Accompanying a promo copy of this album is the most informative notes companion detailing song backgrounds and the writing location, a trait deemed critical to the trio’s success to sinking deep into the soul of the land. Hopefully these will extend to any subsequent purchased copy to give all listeners a flavour of where the inspiration drew from. They certainly add significant value.

While this a personal album to the extent to how location influenced a creative inner spark, probably most pertinent to Ben Glover who grew up in the Glenarm vicinity before following his songwriting calling to Nashville Tennessee, it never loses sight that there is an audience at the other end demanding some sort of popular appeal to the tunes. This listener desire is expertly met in the latter stages of the album in the song pairing of ‘St.Patrick on Slemish Mountain’ and ‘Fair Head’s Daughter’, split only by the album’s third short interlude, an instrumental titled ‘Bessie’s Hymn’. The latter of these two highlighted tracks sees the vocals of Glover taking a break for the less familiar others to play a part. 

There is a strong folk and roots acoustic sound found throughout the record with mandolin regular popping up to prick the ear. This gives the album a satisfying feel and you always feel in the prized company of three accomplished musicians weaving in the full complement of exceptional album content. 

TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD sets out to capture a flavour of a location hemmed in by the sea, yet so rich in folklore and intrigue. The lure for The Orphan Brigade to deploy their talents at the heart of such a place reaped luscious rewards. Whether you call the combined work of Joshua Britt, Ben Glover and Neilson Hubbard: a project, a calling or a voyage of discovery, the results continue to furnish an open minded audience base with an album to contently absorb. 


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