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Trembling Bells - Let them ring
on 22 March 2011
It always good to do some research prior to a concert on the support act and high on expectation prior to tonights Unthanks gig in Cardiff the Gods have indeed smiled. Trembling Bells provide the opening slot, a band which the Modfather Paul Weller has championed in various interviews over recent years and whose new album "The Constant Pageant" has received an emphatic five stars from this week's Sunday Times. They describe it "as reaching new levels of excellence" and after intently listening to this for the past couple of days its hard to disagree. Led by Alex Neilson and hailing from the great city of Glasgow this is the band's third album and it is a mighty and eclectic beast. The influences are all over the place but Fairport Convention must be name checked along with West coast rockers the Jefferson Airplane and singer Lavinia Blackwall has one of the best voices heard this side of a young Grace Slick. This is no nostalgia fest however since the Trembling Bells bring a freshness and verve to their folk rock based music which transcends mere comparisons and cries out for your rapt attention.
Listen to the glorious seething opener with "Just as the rainbow" and you realise finally what Mike Scott was on about in his search for the "Big Music". It chases you around the room, offering no respite whatsoever and Blackwall's vocal is a monster. Up next is "All my favourite mistakes" which would sound equally at home on the "Treme" soundtrack as it would a "best of folk" album, although two minutes in it takes a sort of Carnaby Street inspired turn and sounds like the sort of music that blared out of a Mary Quant Boutique on a Saturday afternoon. Other honourable mentions go to gentle looping ballad "Colour of the night" plus the real ale inspired "Goathland" which the Unthanks should cover as a matter of urgency. On the excellent and very pop orientated "Where do I go from you" I swear they lift some melodic lines from Paul McCartneys "Jet'; but the big centrepiece of the album is "Otley Rock Oracle" which proves that the band intimately know the Incredible String Band back catalogue yet are keen to move forward with brilliantly hard edged folk rock that shifts into an almost free jazz workout. Finally in sharp contrast is the albums' closer which they previously released with the one and only Will Oldham the poignantly sad "New Years Eve's the loneliest night of the year" which will have you searching for both the kleenex and the repeat button and is a tremendous melancholy finish to the album. Overall "The constant pageant" is a triumph for this new band and leaves you wanting more. While the records cover perhaps takes the traditional into the realm of pastiche, the bands music takes folk into new and ever more inventive directions with the sort of elation sadly missing in more high profile recent releases.