Excellent sophomore album from London Celtic / Punk band, full of high-octane Folk and dark rumination.
Six years on from their formation and with a cannon of work that already includes an EP and live album to go along with the 2019 release of their debut, ‘When The Time Bell Rings’, Man The Lifeboats are back with their sophomore offering, ‘Soul Of Albion’. Produced by Jamie Evans and recorded during the pandemic at Rockfield Studios the album finds the band setting sail for new waters, expanding on their full-throttle sound that drew immediate comparison to such acts as the Pogues, Levellers, and Oysterband with a brooding ambience, and intensity, while singer and songwriter Rich Quarterman brings a greater insight and maturity to his lyrics.
The album opens with the raucous, ‘Born Drunk’, which is also the lead single inspired by an unusual tattoo and a Martin Carthy song with a stream of lyrics that at first listen appear nonsensical but on closer inspection it’s possible to catch a sense of Quarterman’s thought process, political leaning and social awareness as he sings, “I was born a European”. This direction is developed further on the following track, the wonderful, ‘The Fires Of England’, which opens with some fine fiddle playing before the arrangement dissipates allowing Quarterman to bemoan, “Where is the country I used to know”, and “The power of the union feels like along time ago”, as he longs for a simpler time whilst accepting that the future lies with the next generation, “This one’s for our children, maybe one day they will teach us to learn”. And as his words drift away a whistle picks up the tune before being joined by fiddle and guitars, the pace gradually increasing to a frantic finale that one imagines will go down a storm live.
The band have built a strong reputation for their live performances in recent years and there are clearly a number of tracks on this new album that will be instant crowd pleasers on their forthcoming tour, such as, ‘Somerstown’, with it’s slapstick humour, ‘Stourbridge Fair’, full of social mischief to the darker, ‘Nobody Home’, which challenges the corruptness of the corridors of power. And if this all sounds like thirsty work the obligatory drinking song, ‘The Ballad Of Sarah Hughes’, offers suitable refreshment with a Dark Ruby Mild and a name drop for Rachel Unthank. Just be careful not to spill. However they all inhabit a very familiar musical landscape that has been extensively mined, most recently by the likes of Bellowhead, and in fact it is the slower numbers where the full potential of the band can be seen to best effect. Tracks like, ‘Soul Of Albion’, where David Vaughan vacates the drum stool that’s kept him full employed throughout the album and here at the piano delivers some sombre minor chords while Quarterman does his best Leonard Cohen impression as he searches for the songs very heart and soul. This approach also work to great effect on the album’s closer, ‘A New Jerusalem’, but here a gently picked guitar replaces the piano as the song searches for a brighter day, and a new beginning. With both tracks the songs are allowed to breath with the arrangement suppressed during the lyrical passages allowing the message to resonate before building in crescendo.
Man The Lifeboats are an excellent band that comfortably exist within the same orbit as the aforementioned Pogues, Levellers, and Oysterband, and ‘Soul Of Albion’, is an excellent album that exudes many of the virtues of the genre. However what makes the band and the album stand out, and what gives them an edge lies in the songwriting of Quarterman, whose astute lyrical observations, poetic soul, and strong vocal performance help elevate proceedings to another level. This works best when the band are brave enough to step away from the formulated traditional jig and instead deliver musically a more open and edgier sound that better suits the darker rumination of the narrative.
In the band’s bio for the new album Quarterman is quoted as saying, “It’s the best thing we’ve done, it might be the best thing we ever do”. I would like to believe that if they have the courage this might just be the beginning of something rather special. In the meantime I will pacify myself by keeping tracks like, ‘The Fires Of England’, and, ‘A New Jerusalem’, on permanent repeat on my playlist.