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TRAD ARRR - Cautionary Tales

TRAD ARRR - Cautionary Tales
Hedge of Sound Records HOS02

Cautionary Tales is the debut album from Trad Arrr, a conglomeration of British Folk Rock musicians and intertwined personalities. It’s a long time project of folk rockers P.J. Wright and Mark Stevens from Little Johnny England, the idea of Trad Arrr is of a folk-flavoured big band let loose on a song canon populated by mostly English epic ballads with an odd Irish and Scottish diversion.

The choice of name obviously suggests the nods to rustic tradition are peppered with wishes to both enliven the tradition and to invoke and celebrate it. The musical coat hanger points are obvious - the full blast electric folk rock as purveyed by Fairport Convention, the ethereal acoustic balladry of Pentangle and the brass laced restraint redolent of Home Service, for example, all of which swim through the consciousness while listening to Cautionary Tales - but the biggest, most obvious, comparison would to these ears be The Albion Country Band circa 71 on Shirley Collins’ monumental No Roses album. Marion Fleetwood’s vocals recall Sandy Denny and Jacqui McShee at times and the sharp rocking jagged tooth electric guitar of P.J. Wright lodges often between Richard Thompson and Lowell George.

The basic band is augmented by Chris Leslie, Jerry Donahue, Dave Pegg and Pete Scrouther, and the arrangements suit the songs and not otherwise. The ghost of Ashley Hutchings MBE is never too far away, as in Princess Royal, with Simon Care, Gareth Turner and Kristaps Fisher reviving the Kirkpatrick/Hutchings Complete Dancing Master blueprint. Chris Leslie’s vocal and mandolin on a Home Service flavoured setting of Whitsun Dance adds a quiet resignation, while the Mariachi trumpets accompanying Pretty Polly suggest the cinematic approach working on its own terms and creating an obvious but fresh palate for the murder ballad.

It would be nice to describe Trad Arrr as a cross between Home Service and The Gloaming, revitalising the native folk tradition. They do this, but they add a hefty dose of Anglo American and British Folk Rock elements too. The results are richly layered, expansive and continually rewarding.

John O’Regan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 109 of The Living Tradition magazine.