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Private Label CDTES002

It's good. In fact, it's very good. It may not be like anything you've heard before, but Elephant Sessions is only one of many groups who are stripping traditional music of its tweeds and cords, putting a hoodie and a snapback on it, and taking it clubbing, and maybe for a McDonalds after. Sketch, Moxie, NiteWorks and Dallahan spring to mind immediately, although the idea goes back to Shooglenifty and Croft Number Five and Peatbog Faeries among others. Elephant Sessions is just the latest, and perhaps the best new band to kick traditional music through the windows of urban youth culture and then crash the party. Most of the youngsters hearing this will be just as surprised by the mix of Celtic and grunge, Balkan and electronica, as I was, and apparently they love it.

There's a lot to love here: exquisite fiddle and mandolin, great tunes (did I mention this is strictly instrumental?), driving beats and quite a lot of funky bluesy riffs for any cats that like to boogie. I Used To Be A Nice Boy starts out as a New Orleans jazz strut and gradually moves out of the alley and onto the main drag, morphing into something between a Scottish reel and a soul number. Doofer is easier to categorise - heavy metal mayhem with a top dressing of mandolin and a look back to those lyrical unplugged songs by Led Zep. At the other end of this album, Wet Field Day betrays the youth of Euan Smillie, Seth Tinsley and Alasdair Taylor, the composers and frontmen in this five-piece, whose school days are not far behind them. Taylor's mandolin is the most distinctive feature of All We Have Is Now, but Smillie's fiddle plays just as important a part in the melodies, while Tinsley's bass and keys are almost ubiquitous and the guitar and drums of Mark Bruce and Greg Barry transform this music from an interesting project into a serious big-stage dance band.

The gentler groove of Lament For Lost Dignity, Summer and Fran's provides those all-important ‘slow’ interludes for snuggling up and smooching - do kids still do that? - between the more pumped-up rhythms of Misty Badger and Tingles. You could do a decent Duke Of Perth to one or two of these tracks, especially when Andrew Waite's piano accordion joins the fray. It's all strictly 4/4 though, except for the complex Eastern beats of Dirty, taking its cue from tunes like Bulgarian Red and The Bellydancer as much as the Balkan tradition. It's all great fun, and flawlessly executed by Elephant Sessions - cousin John would be justly proud of these lads. Me? I'm lovin' it too. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 119 of The Living Tradition magazine.