In Rob Young's fascinating encyclopedic book on British folk music 'Electric Eden', the author evocatively describes the music of the classical protagonists - Kate Bush, Nick Drake et al - as "Yearning for an intense communion with nature and the desire to reclaim a stolen innocence". The problem is that, despite a tidal wave of cravat wearing accordion squeezers commandeering a large chunk of popular music real estate in the last few years, very little of it has felt that authentic. Away from the contrived Dexy-isms of Mumford & Sons there are a few carrying the torch - Laura Marling being one - but genuine scions of Martin Carthy are in short supply.
The Melodic - a five piece from South London made up of Huw Williams, Rudi Schmidt, John Naldrett, Lydia Samuels and James McCandless - suffer from a slightly whiffy hipster bio which includes relocation from Brixton to LA and New York, then 6 months touring/busking to follow. They also make a point of the fact that 18 instruments were used in the making of 'Effra Parade', presumably because this has some kind of significance. There isn't a register of what they all are, but, by the sounds of it, there are harmonicas, pianos, accordions, violins and drum brushes in amongst what's described quixotically as a "Baroque line up".
In essence, folk music must exist as an anachronism, but its traditions in the preservation of stories in song and, by extension, language and culture are even more laudable now that history has been re-written by anyone with a computer. 'Effra Parade', to its credit, has something of those pastoral textures, recalling Tuung's Mother's Daughters and Other Stories despite lacking its hedgeway electronica.
For the most part, in practise this means that songs like 'On My Way' and 'Runaway' weave gently between foot tapping barn dance and free-wheeling camp-fire ditty, the tempo not much above a meandering July stream and the overlapping vocal harmonies a joy to the ear. The quartet nod diligently back at the past they're celebrating as well, the brief and melancholy 'Honey Bee' far from pastiche, whilst fellow interlude 'Willow' is part field recording, part Wiccan-style invocation.
Perhaps unpredictably though, 'Effra Parade''s finest moment owes a debt to the twentieth century. On 'Victor Jara', the quartet craft a highly effective tribute to the life of the murdered Chilean activist, Latin tinged and etched with a palpable regret and sadness. This contrasts richly with a deftly crafted high; on 'Watch The World Turn Blue', afro pop and ska merge willingly with words that reveal a love song about the power of silence. It's a long way in tone from the byways of old Albion, but it's clear by this point that The Melodic are only partially fixated by dusty maps, preferring to transport themselves to sunnier climes.
Despite the obvious sincerity however, it's probably fair to say at this point that hirsute connoisseurs will find 'Effra Parade' lacking a little in substance. The good news is the less afflicted will find it sure-footed and full of character, comfortable in the role of not trying to be anything other than a basket of stories told with charm and gravity. With their terms of reference limited thus for now, The Melodic seem content as minstrel-raconteurs, as we should be with them being so.
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