Despite all the Mumford And Sons/Laura Marling/Noah And The Whale takes on the great American tradition of folk that has inundated the airwaves over the past four or five years, the trend seems to be showing little signs of abating. The latest upstarts to follow down the proverbial Appalachian mountain pass of rootsy, country tinged folk rock are London quintet Billy Vincent, aptly albeit unimaginatively named after the two founding frontmen’s surnames, who do so with a refreshingly small amount of self consciousness. The tunes on their debut are steeped in Southern and Celtic nostalgia throughout.
They do this with a surprising confidence coupled with a fine notion of the formulas that the genre should consist of. The world-weary lyrics which, despite seeming somewhat contrived considering the band’s age and location, are perfect for the emotive acoustic guitar and fiddle playing, at times slow and mournful, at others raucous, playful and uplifting. The lyrics are tales of hardship and woe, with lines such as “There’s mutiny on my ship” in the sombre, excellent 4, 5, 6, reflecting the romantic imagery employed by their American forbears to depict their difficult lives. The band also indulge in Celtic Punk rouse-by-numbers barnstormers such as The Wayward Fall In Line, in a similar vein to Flogging Molly and The Dropkick Murphys; but the nature of the rather slick production of She enables tracks such as these to lose much of their rawness and urgency.
It is almost as though Billy Vincent have looked at some sort of Rough Guide to folk rock and decided to have a bash at each listed variant. Where some tracks sound like Bruce Springsteen, others sound like early ’70s Rolling Stones; and where some sound like Flogging Molly, others sound alarmingly like Bryan Adams. And it is this Bryan Adams anomaly that causes problems for the band. Some tracks are very much centred in the middle of the road, safely tucked between any oncoming traffic that may cause a degree of offence. Whittled Away is a particularly dry number, doused inappropriately with slightly smug ‘wisdom’ and a QI-style cod-reggae breakdown, not to mention the refrain “This life will make a mess of you if you let it do”. In most cases the songs are successful. Pirates is particularly good and loses nothing in its transfer to record, whilst Bottle Top’s lilting three-time romance is subtly poignant.
Whereas many bands would fall into the ‘jack of all trades’ category if they attempted this range of genres on one record, Billy Vincent seem to pull it off very well, even if the record doesn’t quite work as a whole. The majority of the tracks on She are well written gems of Americana; highly derivative, but nonetheless winning. The only minor issue is that the album itself doesn’t come together particularly well; a subtle ballad may quickly be followed by a breakneck speed thrash and vice versa. Yet as stand-alone songs, the majority of the record is excellent. As first records go, it is a valiant effort from a band that will surely improve once they have polished their sound.