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The Inner Octave review,
This review is from: The Inner Octave (Audio CD)
The Inner Octave is a compendium of the goings on at the Rif Mountain independent record label, bringing together tracks from several of their releases, including some that would have eluded virtually everyone on their initial limited-edition releases, plus a small number of previously unreleased tracks.
The artists present are The Owl Service, The Straw Bear Band, Jason Steel, Nancy Wallace, Robert Sunday, The A. Lords, Roshi featuring Pars Radio, and Alisdair Roberts. The general mood drifts between wry and melancholy, with the pace now and then reaching a canter but generally pretty laid-back, or at the verge of sleeping and waking, as with the blissfully drowsy pastoralia of Freohyll by The A. Lords, and the lullaby-like calm of Roshi's Armenian folk song.
One of my favourite tracks is the opening curiosity Lyke Wake Dirge, as performed by The Straw Bear Band. This is a chilling and fascinating relic about a journey from death to purgatory, that The Young Tradition and Pentangle captured beautifully in shivering sparsity in years gone by, but here The Straw Bear Band gleefully transform it into something altogether more... uplifting - if in a decidedly off-kilter manner. Oddly enough it brings to mind Spirit In The Sky! This sounds disastrous, and it probably is, but it's not the first time a creepy or sinister folk-song has been performed in a seemingly inappropriate mood, and this has become one of my favourite Straw Bear Band recordings to date.
Other favourites come from folk-rock outfit The Owl Service. January Snows is a great choice from The Burn Comes Down E.P, an epic and beautiful piece; the cover of Lal Waterson's Fine Horseman (different from the Bitter Night EP version) is also very good; and Katie Cruel is something to treasure. Robert Sunday's song Hush Feral Dog is fun, with a catchy tune and lyrics.
The collection is centred around the musicians who created the label, resulting in about half of the 19 songs featuring lead vocals by either Nancy Wallace or Jason Steel, whilst Dom Cooper of the Straw Bear Band sings lead on a further three. Furthermore all of the core artists guest on each other's recordings. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it does have the effect of limiting the colours on the palette, and perhaps slightly narrowing this glimpse of the label, which has featured the work of other artists (for example on Echoes From The Mountain). The mellow mood sometimes works against things, some of the songs not leaving much of an impression on me, just drifting by. I think inviting The A. Lords, Roshi, Robert Sunday and Alisdair Roberts to provide something exclusive in place of a song each from the main four artists would have made for a more balanced and satisfying compilation, but it is still a fine thing as it is, attractively packaged and priced to inflict no pain.