Trembling Bells - Dungeness - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Trembling Bells - Dungeness

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2018-03-30
Trembling Bells - Dungeness
Trembling Bells - Dungeness

I love Halloween. It’s a time to wear a mask. But as Sandy Denny wrote, “Red and gold and Halloween have passed us by.” So however clever this album’s mask is, with all the fuzz and wah-wah guitar, dissonance, progressive song structures, and psych sonics, this is, deep down in its Scottish grooves, a great folk record.

Now, just to be fair, Trembling Bells’ last record, the mini-album Wide Majestic Aire, was pretty clean folk rock. There was a big electric guitar solo here and there, but for the most part, it followed the template of Ashley Hutchings’ Albion Band, circa Under the Rose, with Cathy Lesurf’s soaring vocals and obvious attention to melodies.

But this album is quite different. This one rocks, right out loud. Now, just to be fair (again), Trembling Bells have never been about Topic Records pristine sound. I mean, “Baby Lay Your Burden Down” from Abandoned Love certainly owed something to the pop stylings of “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me.” But that was all right because as The Stones sang, “It’s only Rock ‘n’ Roll. (But I like It).”

Trembling Bells are a pleasantly weird band that plays psych, rock, folk, and just about everything else. The band is a strange recipe that mixes very early Fairport, Steeleye Span, Mr. Fox, fuzz guitar, Comus, the great vocals of Christine Collister, several wah-wah pedals, Annie Haslam and Renaissance, and even the pop elements of the art rock band Slapp Happy into the wonderous mix. Now, this is an odd list and these are, indeed, strange bed fellows, but in Lavinia Blackwall, The Bells have a distinctive voice that avoids the usual rock singer chess moves. Her background in early music, when paired with rock music, creates a unique combustion of something old, something new, and just about everything in between.  And, as I said, they rock right out loud.

The album starts with the brief “Big Nothing,” that invites the listener into the proceedings much like Steeleye Span’s “A Calling-On Song” opened their Hark! The Village Wait album. But then the gravity becomes heavy with fuzz and wah-wah guitars pushing against folk music expectations. Enter Lavinia Blackwall, whose vocals are strong enough to hold the spooky melody as it kicks against those very same determined guitars. The song morphs into the folky chant of the song’s title, “Knockin on the Coffin,” which sounds like a song Richard Thompson should have written.

“My Father Was a Collapsing Star,” with drummer and songwriter Alex Neilson on vocals, conjures the ghost of the great band Mr. Fox. The same is true for “This Is How the World Will End,” which is both catchy and echoes Mr. Fox’s classic song “The Gypsy,” and then it suddenly becomes weirdly profound as the guitar solo steps back in time to a greasy fifties dancefloor when everybody wanted to order a cheeseburger. Listen to the wonderful juxtaposition between the piano and guitar at the end of the song.

“Death Knocked at My Door” (another should have been a Richard Thompson title, perhaps?) once again, has the vocal shoving against the gravity of the instrumentation. This one has a bit of a drum solo. Apparently, the band has its roots in an improvising folk project called the Directing Hand. This song has that improv feel. In fact, the entire record was recorded live in the studio, which is cut into the vibrant grooves. The ending of “Christ’s Entry into Govan,” with its violin frensy, is a live wire testament to the studio electricity.

The same is true for the heavy song, “The Prophet,” as guitars bounce between the speakers. Once again, the vocals defy gravity and combust into a pretty great bit of drama.

“Devil in Dungeness” is progressive rock as it chases an Eastern melody to the end of the known world.  It’s lovely stuff. Its chorus is soft stuff.

The album finishes with “I’m Coming” which sings with gospel fervor. That song is suddenly cut, and the final free form tune “Rebecca Dressed as a Waterfall” then extends itself with vocals, dulcimer, recorder, and sundry bird calls. It’s a nice ending to a great album.

Look, this is an album that pleads its case in a crazy world. And I think, against the odds, it convinces the jury that there is still music to be heard; there are roots to be touched; there are melodies that push against grain; and there are musicians who can join their collective talents and just sing a few great songs every once in a while.

That’s a good thing.

This is a very modern record that rocks all over the past. It’s a deep album. But, you know, in the grooves and vibrations where everything matters, The Rolling Stones were right as they almost said, It’s only folk rock ‘n’ roll. (But I Like It).


Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Wonderful review, Bill. The Bells never fail to impress and this sounds like another winner.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Jeff, thanks for the kind words. It is such a privilege to be reviewing these wonderful albums.

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