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Album Reviews Direct and honest to the point of hurt

MICHAL BONCZA reviews albums by Gregg and Ciaran Algar, Spear of Destiny, and Glymjack

Gregg Russell & Ciaran Algar
Utopia and Wasteland
(Rootbeat Records)
★★★★★

Gregg Russell’s voice and guitar simply mesmerise, while Ciaran Algar’s evocative violin intercedes surgically and, if that wasn’t enough, Mark Tucker’s percussion and bass lend discreetly elegant rhythm accents to this soundscape of memorable songs.
 

The trio has a musical pedigree that is enviable and a joy to absorb — best through every pore.
 
The fifth star is for the courage of its politics — direct and honest to the point of hurt.
 
 “You see us now we’re burning, but these flames are nothing new / We are leaving,” is Algar’s mournful indictment of Grenfell fire.
 
“getting sick of their decisions, never asked just told,” sings Russell exposing the humbug of HS2 in Line Two.
 
And then the beautifully crafted, sensitive homage to Walter (Tull) sung bitter-sweetly by Russell with Algar weaving in haunting violin phrases — a masterpiece.

Spear of Destiny
Tontine
(Eastersnow Recording Company)
★★★★★

The term “rock legend” is legit in the case of Kirk Brandon. He’s been round the block 14 times (albums) over 35 years with Spear.
 

A Tontine was a 17th century investment scheme that expired with the death of its last member — a memento mori, perhaps? “A joke between band members about who would live the longest,” he jests.
 
Spear of Destiny is the spear of Longinus, the centurion and later saint, who pierced the side of crucified Christ, but redemption is not on offer here. The edgy, fatalistic and melancholy tone of the songs is rendered with breath-taking musical expertise.
 
Adrian Portas, Craig Adams, Phil Martini and Steve Allan-Jones masterfully energise every song with shifting tempos where layers of refined instrumentation are punctuated with brilliant trumpet, viola and keyboard solos — quite a revelation.
 
Miss them not as they tour Britain throughout May.

 
Glymjack
Light the Evening Fire
(Storm Lantern)
★★★★

Glymjack’s a Victorian London slang for a child with a lantern who lit up the way for strangers — the job replicated musically by this trio to illuminate the darkness of Tory Britain.
 

Although rooted in English folk, Glymjack are musically not homogenous, ranging from the bouncy 17th century moralistic ballad The Sweet Trinity or the classic grim Bows of London to the chamber orchestration of Bright Sparks in a salutation of John Ball and suffragette Emily Davison based on Tony Benn’s speech at the Tolpuddle Martyrs festival.
 
A “je’accuse” Made in England rages at the abandonment of former soldiers sleeping rough in London, while the heart-wrenching duet in Hope Point highlights the plight of immigrant rural workers.
 
This is not the last we’ll hear from multi-instrumentalist songwriter Greg McDonald, Gemma Gayner dazzling on violin and the soaring voice of Dickon Colinson. Of that I am sure.

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