Attention, please, you are about to be blown away.
After initially being unimpressed with the shallow line “when the shit hits the fan” in the opening song, this album has profoundly resonated. It is incredibly moving, covering a range of social and often personal issues for writers Joe Faulkner and Adam Grieves. The full lineup is Faulkner, lead singer, guitarist and harmonica player; Grieves on vocals, guitar, mandolin and harmonica; Dan Burrows on harmony vocals, bass and banjo; Georgia Browne on violin and Tom Hartley on drums. Every one of this new and gifted five-piece from Somerset brings sensational layers of stirring musicality to thoughtful, intelligent and observational lyrics. Covering subjects from knife crime to suicide, it would be easy to imagine this would result in a dreary, dispiriting sound. However, that is absolutely not Concrete Prairie’s style. Instead, whilst maintaining dignified seriousness, their sound is spirited and rousing.
To start back at the beginning, the opening song, ‘Picking up Pieces‘ turns out to be a pretty and nostalgic narrative of a father’s loving relationship with, in this case, his daughter. Any parent will relate to the line “oh you know yeah you do, when shit hits the fan, I’ll be the man who’s a picking up pieces“. The plucky melody reflecting a distinct “been there and done that” kind of feel.
Wistful and wandering ‘I Wish You Well‘ features a beautifully orchestrated sound punctuated with heavenly harmonica playing. ‘Bury My Blues‘ begins ballad-like with the heartrending line “My demons they ain’t disposable, to them forever I’m bound” but within a few bars becomes a fiddle-led festival of sound declaring “I’m gonna bury all, bury all my blues, beneath the concrete prairie and live a little loose“. And, living loose is just how the whole album sounds.
‘Hard Times‘ advises “Stand your ground in your dead man’s town… hard times are coming, there’s trouble on up ahead, when hard times are coming don’t go running, let’s see what the angels send“. Perhaps this is metaphorical or perhaps it is insightful. The electrifying violin & guitar surely suggest the latter. ‘Day by Day‘, turns the sad and sudden death of a mutual friend of Burrows and Faulkner into a magnificent, breezy perspective. Neither taking life too seriously nor being flippant about such a tragedy takes incredible skill that is apparent in abundance throughout the album. ‘People Forget‘, which would seem to be about Faulkner’s mother who lost her life to alcoholism, is a wonderfully stoic account and an apt reminder that “People forget life ain’t no dress rehearsal“. Again the pace and enthusiasm with which this message is delivered is hearty and hopeful. ‘Time to Kill‘, takes up the increasingly worrying topic of knife crime. With its menacing, spaghetti western style intro, far-reaching, layered vocals build to a magnificent guitar solo before the solemn summing up: “He knew I had time to kill… I’m the devil’s disciple now“.
After this, we are taken on a strident journey of alcoholism. Faulkner’s experiences with his alcoholic mother informing him enough to be able to take on the perspective of the alcoholic. ‘Wine on my Mind‘ is beautifully poignant yet sobering with its message “With wine on my mind I broke my family“- but again, not to be put off by the subject matter, it has a rousing, stomping melody. Next, ‘Winter Town‘, written this time by Greaves, takes a darker, atmospheric, and almost Nick Cave-style vibe while describing depression and suicide. This, the most mellow song on the album, is simultaneously sad and beautiful with gorgeous harmonies, subtle guitar and outstanding violin.
Saving the best to last will always be a matter of opinion, but without a doubt, ‘The Devil Dealt the Deck‘ takes some beating. This eight-minute epic about the brutality and unfairness dealt to some people is astonishing. Starting off ballad-style, it soars and then takes off at a phenomenal pace, showcasing the awe-inspiring talent within the band. The guitars are simply fantastic, the drums dramatic, and the violin inspired. It is a turbulent, dynamic ride that brings us back down gently with its serene outro. Just wonderful.
Throughout this album, Faulkner’s lyrics demonstrate his ability to capture difficult situations with an immense depth of feeling and sensitivity, whilst his narrative vocal brings deftness and gravitas with well-worn skill. We were lucky to feature Concrete Prairie in the last AUK Twang Factor contest. This album more than vindicates our decision to feature them and represents UK americana at its best. Most definitely a band to keep watching.
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