Travelling along the (longer) ancient road!

My list of releases to write about never seems to get any shorter!  But that’s no bad thing, and The Silk Road are the next on my list – with a self-titled album to follow up from their EP released in the summer last year.  Back then when I wrote about it I drew parallels with both Levellers and Ferocious Dog in their sound – and that still stands.  As an aside, one of my friends once described FD quite disparagingly I thought at the time as ‘Levelling the Clash’.  To be fair, back then they probably had a few Levs covers in their set.

I’ve subsequently mentally reappropriated the description to be a badge of honour (maybe that’s how it was intended, to be fair!).  So if Ferocious Dog are ‘Levelling the Clash’ then I reckon The Silk Road are more like ‘Levelling the Pistols’.  And much like the former, the latter belies some of the intricacy and individuality on offer – but with the music often tending to the punk end of the folk-punk spectrum (although not always), and Tich’s visceral sneering vocals (although not always) it feels like a suitable pithy description.

All the tracks from the EP are reprised, along with eight companions – here we have a much more polished (without losing the bite) and varied collection of songs.  So whilst I might have suggested that The Silk Road are more punk than folk, there’s plenty of glimpses at their softer underbelly in here too – with traditional energetic instrumentals like Montagu’s Harrier which featured on the EP, and the frankly lovely Elizabeth Rose which almost sounds like it could morph into a McDermott’s 2 Hours song.

No Revolution kicks the album off – with soaring fiddle from Jamie Burney quite reminiscent of Levellers Riverflow, with Tich on harmonica overlaid with chugging guitars – that’s really where the comparison ends as the vocals sneer over the instruments to lament the lack of chance for revolution occurring.  Find a Cure starts with chugging instrumentals, as the vocals kick in they all drop out leaving Tich singing over Brian Buckberry’s percussion – the lyrics emphasise the similarities we all have despite the differences we construct about each other.

I Don’t Care is the first track reprised from the EP, it’s a much more polished version – but retains the energy and bite of the earlier release.  It still has that dirty intro with snarling vocals and relentless percussion, only for a break part way through only to throw you back in at the deep end.  Then we’re on to the change of tack, Elizabeth Rose is a charming yet pacey instrumental driven principally by some excellent fiddle work from Jamie Burney – guitar keeping pace and eventually joined by drums and bass you could have a really good dance to this one!  A nice handy voice-rester for Tich at gigs too!

Scars returns from the EP with the same empowering message and slower pace, but so much tighter and more refined – still with the same passion and sense of defiance.  Master Race introduces some banjo from Andy Harwick into the mix, setting aside his guitar for a song – and once the harmonica and gentle percussion and other instruments kick in it sounds almost jaunty – until you take a moment to take in the lyrics, painting a dystopic picture of how we humans treat the planet – then some electric guitar and heavier percussion matches the music to the lyrics.  A clever song!

Still Breathing is a different sound – drums and fiddle accompany Tich’s vocals initially as electric guitar and bass kick in, this is more rock and roll for me with the addition of fiddle of course.  Breaking Down the Laws is one from recent live gigs I’ve heard – military style drumming marks the intro and shouted vocals before power-chord-tastic electric guitar kicks the song to life, with fiddle interludes overlaid to break up the otherwise pretty angry sounding backing track and vocals.

Ancient Road returns from the EP – the start has shed the simple drum beat intro from the EP, and is really remiscient of Levellers Broken Circles until the song kicks in – charting the ancient silk road that gives the band the name, swirling fiddle – here the difference in tightness in the instrumentals is stark compared to the earlier recording, it sounds bloody great (and I like the EP one too!).  The second instrumental on the album Montagu’s Harrier follows as before, and it’s just a stunning piece of music – another showcase for Jamie on fiddle!  One of my favourites in their live set.

Cities Under Siege brings the pace down, a gentle guitar strummed intro is overlaid gradually with fiddle – and d’you know what, Tich has discovered he can sing as well as snarl – and it sounds great.  Lamenting our habit of prioritising warfare over welfare, the percussion kicks in and eventually the layers of instrumentation build without the pace changing.  As well as the two instrumental tracks this is the one I sometimes have a sneaky skip back to the beginning of when I’m listening, it’s really thought provoking lyrically and musically.

Boats Come in at Midnight returns us to the theme of cartels and dodgy dealings – and brings us back to a faster pace too.  Rock guitar and drums and bass (bass is Shaun Haley, sorry Shaun I’ve not namechecked you yet!) are overlaid with fiddle and Tich is definitely back in snarl mode, telling the tale of drug cartel activities in Spain.  Finally we have On Ya Way – kicking off with sounds of the sea, with harmonica introducing the song over the cry of gulls – slow-paced, minimal guitar strumming and gentle vocals – even when the band kick in it remains a nice gentle way to finish off a most enjoyable listen.

This is a really well produced collection – credit to Paul Hopkinson at Foundry Studios in Chesterfield here.  I’ve been listening to a pre-mastered recording that still had a few tweaks to be made to the levels, but it’s been a pleasure to get to know it (interspersing it with assorted other things I’ve got on my list to get reviews done for!). I do actually have in my possession the final mix (thanks Tich!) which arrived yesterday, but I’ve not had a chance to listen to it yet, I’m looking forward to hearing the finished article, because the nearly-finished one was already bloody good!

If you keep an eye on The Silk Road page on Facebook then you’ll be able to find details on pre-ordering the album for a discount

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