It's refreshing to find an artist that celebrates their musical heritage, no matter how unfashionable it may seem at first glance. In Frank Turner's case an appreciation of his very British roots and traditional folk music has allowed him to stand head and shoulders above many of his contemporaries. New compilation The Second Three Years is the perfect demonstration of that sensibility, while tipping his hat to his influences and heroes along the way.
Picking up where The First Three Years ended this new collection fills in the gaps around the Winchester born songwriter's last two records Poetry Of The Deed and England Keep My Bones. So included here are the extra tracks from the deluxe version of the latter studio album, live tracks, cover versions and assorted oddities. But surprisingly, considering it's such a grab bag, it's the rarest of this type of compilation - thematically consistent without a hint of inferior studio offcuts to be found. It predominantly acts as a companion piece to last year's England Keep My Bones. Many of the songs here are stripped back as opposed to overwrought band compositions, providing an intimacy and heartfelt attitude.
While not forgetting his punk roots (an acoustic cover of NOFX's 'Linoleum' for example) Turner injects a hazy sense of nostalgia throughout The Second Three Years. From the escapism of 'To Absent Friends', the reflection of 'Song For Eva Mae', to the world weary 'Balthazar Impresario' or 'Mr Richards', there's a hint of autobiography to each performance. The second half of the tracklisting relies more heavily on a diverse set of cover versions. While the songs range from Springsteen and Nirvana to Take That and Wham! Turner very much makes them his own. The only track that seems a little divorced from the rest of the material here is actually the Americana of 'Thunder Road'. While it's a faithful performance, the lure of the highway seems a little alien to an otherwise very British record.
"Right now I'm going to sing a traditional English song. The reason I want to do that is I feel that most people in this country don't know about their own folk music", Turner says before an a cappella version of the traditional song 'Barbara Allen'. It's a sentiment that brings an added air of importance to a stunning live performance, but it's also one of the many themes behind this record. Turner is not just an entertainer; he's also trying to educate his audience. He reveals much about his time growing up in a cathedral city, he signposts the artists that influenced him (most notably on the reworking of Dylan's 'Song To Woody', that here becomes 'Song To Bob'), and he references long forgotten folk standards. Very few other artists would have the confidence in themselves to create such personal albums that share so much with the audience, but for Frank Turner it's where he seems to be most comfortable.
Even when you suspect the wheels may be about to fall off Turner's bandwagon as he covers Wham's 'Last Christmas', he still manages to defy your expectations. Breathing new life into the song from his childhood, he turns it into a heartbreaking acoustic sing along. It's those moments that make The Second Three Years quite so compelling. While it's a treasure trove for those already familiar with Frank, it also works as an album in its own right, rather than a compilation, for those listening with fresh ears. Here's hoping that the next three years are just as good.