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This hymnal lore is striking on two occasions – the album’s bookends. Intro: Antioch is a powerful short piece recorded with the Neasden Sacred Harp Singers; if it had been 10 times as long, and a few shades darker, it would squarely fit with the apocalyptic folk school spearheaded by Current 93.
Similarly, final track The No Testament is another strong collaborative work. A stirring choir behind Carter hum and clap as our singer delivers an a cappella treatise on the necessity of living in the moment.
It’s a shame, then, that the main filling of this album never approaches the quality or originality of these two outposts. Yes, there are shining moments: the Nic Jones cover, Ruins by the Shore, is a touching interpretation, and the psychedelic blues experiment Waves & Tremors adds colour and texture to the album.
Throughout, Carter’s guitar playing is solid, occasionally superb, and he assembles a great supporting cast (most noticeably Sam Sweeney’s fiddle on Garden Hymn). Yet none of this mitigates the album’s one very serious flaw: the lyrics.
The words are where Carter explores those Modern Secular Concerns. And how. Over-specific lines like “chuck your to-do lists on the floor” (from No Other Side) and “I’m coughing up child support” (from The One) already feel dated – and not in a charming, time-capsule kind of way.
The divorce observation, Separate Ways, is especially irritating. The relentless say-what-you-see lyrics of this song turn what should have been a reflection on the sadness of a break-up into a ham-fisted cliché parade. Newly single folk fans may wish to give this one a wide berth.
A frustrating album, then. If it were only possible to turn down the vocals, The No Testament would be a work of greater spiritual, and indeed secular, interest.
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