Friday, February 11, 2011

Al Baker & The Dole Queue - Causes and Cures

Call it 'troubacore', call it 'riot folk', call it whatever you will. Manchester's Al Baker and compadres have perfected the knack of spinning rousing yarns which could make you want to change the world. Or make you want to change the world even more, if you're already of a rebel persuasion.

The sound of Baker's second full length album - following 2006's On The Use Of Jackboots -  is best described using the adjective suggested in the press release: "raucous". No doubt his followers - accumulated around the activist scene and at gigs around the country - will have expected nothing less.

Right from the start of the anti-religion opener Thank God I'm An Atheist, Baker's intelligence, wit and tenderness shines through lyrics such as "You can talk to me if you need to know there's someone there/I'll sing you a love song they way you'd say a prayer". This very much continues on the accordion-driven tale of Mary (she's "quite contrary", by the way), who celebrates free love because "any boy who'd think that binding fingers with a ring has anything to do with love is quite absurd". The subject matter of Granddad Was An Anarchist should be quite obvious, and it touchingly includes the line "In case of revolution, I'll break some glass for you".

The Psychopomp Romp (Charon's Wager) is probably the first song I've heard laying blame for the current social crisis at the door of the bankers, but don't worry, financial jargon is eschewed in favour of a morality tale you can do more than tap your foot and nod to. Storytime is a very different, stripped-down ballad, reflecting on how childhood innocence gives way to knowledge of real life in this messed up society.

Other highlights include an excellent, more optimistic reworking version of old folk standard The Minstrel Boy, and the heartfelt heartache on Thoughts Of You.

Like recent tourmate The Ruby Kid, Baker's lyrical approach is deceptively simple, for all his skill. In his own words, he "...wanted to make a record that made modern politics personal. Every song on Causes and Cures is about something that happened to me or someone I know very well, and the incredible musicians I got to work with provide the best and loudest context to tell those stories that I could wish for". That all comes across very well on the album, every track of which resounds with yearning for a life worth dancing to.
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