This Is the Kit - Moonshine Freeze

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2017-07-07

Moonshine Freeze is a nice British folk album with a bit of banjo.

Well, it’s really a nice British folk album with a bit of banjo which also happens to possess complexity, philosophical depth, and saxophones that haunt at the edges of the music. And it makes me think about T.S. Eliot, William Wordsworth, King Crimson, and Elton John.

The first track, “Bullet Proof” is quintessential pastoral stuff. Kate Stables, the heart of This Is the Kit, plucks her banjo with almost harp-like beauty and delivers the heartfelt lyric about being able to “forgive and accept,” “letting too many bullets through,” and “everything we broke today needed breaking anyway.”Oh, this album also made me think about the simple folk beauty of Vashti Bunyan (she of traipsing off to the Outer Hebrides in an old wagon drawn by a horse named Bess in 1970 after recording the cult folk classic Just Another Diamond Day fame). So I thought I had this one pegged.

But beware of the “deception of the thrush.”

That quote comes from T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton,” the first poem from his Four Quartets, which is a meditation on the universe, all things divine, time, life, and just about everything else. The poem warns about the “thrush” and its “deception” that mires perception into the “Our first world,” a rose-colored illusion. But then, there is a “black cloud carrying the sun away.” Our perception then returns to that “first world” but now there is a dark wisdom. And let’s just say that in a world of that dark wisdom folk singers don’t sing about unicorns, magical rainbows, or anything to do with a hobbit.

And it is safe to say this record never mentions a unicorn, a magical rainbow, or for that matter, any hobbit hanging around any Shire.

The second song, “Hotter Colder,” is that “black cloud.” It’s suddenly psychological. It’s still folk music, but it tells of “a darkness that got deeper,” with urgent percussion, and a saxophone—a sax with a pretty decent solo. This moves the music into the realm of the great Cate Le Bon but without the Syd Barrett quirkiness (which I love!). Both women, however, are cleverly expanding the traditional folk ethos. Next is the title song, “Moonshine Freeze.”It’s a child’s clapping song as “the game begins,” but it is about the changes, “the natural order of things,” which leave simplicity behind; yet the tune remains a sing-a-long for children—children who now know the truth about the stuff “we broke today.” William Wordsworth wrote “Tintern Abbey,” a poem about re-visiting a place of his youth only to find “nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass,” although the place of childhood has remained the same. The poem is a glance back at youth “which having been must ever be” by an adult who understands the sadness of time and life’s “darkness that got deeper.”

This record says a similar thing.

By the way, the only connection King Crimson has with any of this is they released an album called Deception of the Thrush, which was an abridged version of the box called The Projects. Apparently, Fripp and Company felt that abridgement was some sort of illusion that should be punctured with the purchase of the rather pricey four disc set. Following Eliot’s logic, it’s imperative to cough up the extra money for the box (which I did!) and hear all improvisational warts and all dark cloud blowing in order to fully grasp the true beauty of this best of set. Of course in the process, everything about the universe, all things divine, time, life, everything else, and of course, all things in the Court of the Crimson King are revealed.

But really, whatever…

“Easy on the Thieves” is next. There’s more plucked banjo. And there’s more simplicity. Kate sings “People want blood…and blood is what they got.” Ouch. Like I said, there aren’t any unicorns, rainbows, or guest appearances by Bilbo Baggins.  “All Written Out in Numbers” stretches into the complexities of the musical universe. This is mantra music with that sax audible just below ebb tide. The same can be said for “Empty No Teeth” with its perfect blend of muted sax sounds, sparse electric guitar, a distant piano, lots of tension, that banjo (again!), and chanted mystical vocals. This music should be notated in lovely cuneiform.  

By the way, favorite new word of the week:  Someone on Amazon described Kate Stables’ music as chiaroscuro--the light and dark shading in a picture. I wish I could have written that.

And then there is “Riddled with Ticks.” Yeah, “we shook ourselves free,” Kate sings, “I know what is true. And I will fight you.” This is strong stuff. And I hear the ghost of Sandy Denny in her voice. That’s a good ghost to resurrect. “Two Pence Piece” references “blood in my mouth, tasted of coin…blood on the ground.” The electric guitar frames this drama like a sad antiquated portrait. The horns measure the difference between two people who “never apologize” and “never explain.”

Kate Stables is a great cryptic lyricist.

The harmony vocals on this record are sublime.

“Show Me So” is quiet, intense, and absolutely beautiful. “By My Demon Eye” has a chorus (perhaps in Gaelic) that sounds like early Capercaillie, the great Scot folk band. Finally, “Solid Grease” finishes the album quite deliberately in its own time and on its terms. The music unfurls its notes toward the heavens. And I take back what I said about King Crimson: The very ending minute of this tune recalls in the final moments, with its jazzy piano and the absolute beauty, the title song from my favorite Crimson album Islands. I suppose that little bit doesn’t really matter. But his record paints with broad strokes of the musical brush.

The whole record made me think of Elton John. “Coming Down in Time” to his Tumbleweed Connection days, he and Bernie wrote a song which included a line that stated some women leave us “counting the stars in the night.”

That’s what this album does. It makes me “count the stars in the night.” Sure, this is a British folk album with a bit of banjo. But that bit of banjo and everything else that floats in the tide pool of this music makes me contemplate the universe, all things divine, time, life, and just about everything else. This is an absolutely lovely record that just happens to have a tough soul.

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