Black Thorn – Zealous

I’m horrendously late penning this review – a combination of laziness and busy-ness on my part, but better late than never, right?

Black Thorn put a new EP out as a follow-up to their superb album a little over a month ago – I’ve raved about them in the past, a heady brew of folk, dance and just general feel-good festival vibes with a modern funky twist. I always want to say ‘saccharine’ when I think about them, which could sound in some way derogatory, but it isn’t – it’s just a way of describing the pure joy of the kind of music they produce.

With Zealous though they’ve underpinned this with their darker side – perhaps not surprising given then general climate of the world and the UK in particular. Mr Anonymous kicks in with an audio recording spelling out the bubble of ignorance we live in with bass thrumming behind with occasional guitar strums and accordion – the song kicks in slowly, ethereal before building up to a full on rock number with folk infusion from the accordion. You still get a ‘woo!’ though! The addition of a full drumkit really gives their sound some oomph.

2 Chord Groove kicks in with mandolin before settling to a proper sleazy, erm, groove I guess! As it builds vocals are layered and instrumentals overlaid to build some complexity, it’s a really pleasing effect – a perfect sit in the sun and chill out with a cider kinda song, and then if you have the energy as two thirds in the electric guitar and drums take over into a bit of a rock out! I think this one might be my favourite.

Lazy has a ponderous start leading into what feels like a stream of consciousness lyrics (I do like the rhyme of biscuit and risk it, though!). Eventually kicking in to a rocky chorus before lulling you back into an almost paranoid-sounding verse with great use of backing vocals to add atmosphere as it gradually builds up again with layers to the beefy chorus – I’d love to understand more about what the lyrics mean, if anything! The instrumental is a change of pace and style, a middle-eastern fusion with dance music before a final extended chorus to tie it all together, ending with a bit of studio chatter which personally I always really like!

Home Appliances starts with an old-skool keyboard style start which falters and is taken over by a catchy groovy overlaid with accordion. The vocals kick in extolling the virtue of, well, home appliances! Ranging from a fridge with an ice-dispenser to a microwave to a kettle. That might sound mundane but for the bouncy soundtrack underpinning the song – a proper dancy little number, then you’re thrown into an almost hair-metal middle-eight, then back into the familiar bounce and an abrupt finish.

Mr Bigg starts with some funky bass riff work, joined by accordion and then vocals picking up familiar themes from Black Thorn’s past work – a lament of working life, building up with minimal percussion of cymbals and a woodblock gradually building into a fuller and fuller sound. The story as far as I can make out centring around not really wanting a job as much as a more work-obsessed boss might think so.

Dog Bite Nose documents a story you’re probably aware of if you follow the band on social media, Joel had an unfortunate incident where he was attacked by a dog (I think it was after a gig, I could be wrong) – it’s a slow ponderous start with guitar and accordion, and again kicking in with full drums and guitar chords into a more full on rocky track overlaid with swirly accordion, moving into a more ska sounding section in the middle before returning inexorably to the rocked out section, then winding itself down to ease you out of the EP.

Black Thorn are definitely showing their darker side here, but not losing the charm and songwriting craft which they’ve built their sound and image around – I’m a big fan of adding the heavier sound to their musical canon – heavier guitar work and adding full drums courtesy of of James, and the keyboards and brass of Lily has added new dimensions to what was already a complex and heady brew, but they’ve not overdone it on the ingredients here for my money. It makes me look forward to what is to follow.

You can avail yourself of Zealous and other Black Thorn goodies by visiting their website.

Freeborn Al / 12th August 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

It’s all butter side up for Black Thorn..

a3508657378_2Butter Side Up is a great name for this album.  Your metaphorical dropped toast lands butter side up on a good day, and whacking this in your CD player is definitely a precursor to one of those!

If I could sum up playing it briefly (not my forté I realise!) then it would be that it feels optimistic, summery – it wonderfully encapsulates the kind of festival feeling in which you might invariably encounter Black Thorn strutting their stuff on a stage.  I think it’s the accordion wielded by Josie more than anything that soaks these tracks with cheerfulness and light-heartedness, with Joel’s heartfelt vocal style, Jack’s bass rhythms and Adam’s guitar it all knits together into a well-honed collection of songs.

There’s some development from the live performances I’ve seen – double bass, brass, melodica and synths feature in here, as well as guest appearances giving more vocals, percussion, didgeridoo, harmonica and cornet, but it doesn’t detract one little bit from the kind of turns on stage I’ve seen the band put in a number of times over the summer.  It’s ambitious, but it doesn’t over-reach by any stretch – add to your consideration that the whole thing was mixed and mastered by Joel himself – in a damp cellar in Derbyshire according to the album sleeve – and it becomes all the more impressive!

It opens up with Cabin Fever – one that felt immediately familiar with a few festival outings – starting with birdsong and guitar strums, a ‘woo!’ kicks the full track in (Black Thorn are a very woo-y band – and it fits them perfectly) – it changes rhythm and pace, I think the narrative is the anticipation of waiting for summer.  Psychic Sally picks up a very different theme – on the dubious merits of the psychic industry, whether or not it’s inspired by a famous ‘psychic’ of that name was fervently denied on Facebook by Joel – it carries on nicely in tone from the first track but is gently scathing by the same token with an empassioned chorus.


Freeborn Al / 8th September 2016 / Music, Other Bands, Photos / 0 Comments