Blimey, UK folk music really is on a roll when one of its major talents has taken to bashing out a concept album about the aftermath of an apocalypse. Visions of survivors in woolly sweaters should of course be banished forthwith, because Jon Boden didn’t achieve his status as one of the key figures of the folk renaissance without a king-size dollop of songwriting and musical talent.
What his impressive album Songs From The Floodplain also confirms is that Navigator Records is fast becoming the key focus point for all that is great about UK folk music at the moment. In the last six months the label has already released great albums by Drever/McCusker/Woomble, The Martin Green Machine and Under One Sky, and is also the home of Bellowhead, the spiffing band that features one Jon Boden as its lead singer.
Boden seems to have his fingers in a whole host of pies at the moment, and it is a small wonder that he has found the time to write and record an album as strong as Songs From The Floodplain (his second solo effort after 2006’s Painted Lady).
In the manner of all great concept albums, Songs From The Floodplain leaves a lot of questions unanswered. For a start, the listener is never given the exact cause of the disaster that has left isolated communities struggling to rebuild their lives. Whether a biblical flood or a man-made event, we are left to fill in the gaps for ourselves as Boden chooses to zero in on the characters that have survived.
And what characters we are given to sink our teeth into. The mysterious preacher of Penny For The Preacher and Dancing In The Factory, the sage-like gypsy’s daughter of Beating The Bounds, The Pilgrim’s Way and April Queen. And in between everyone from ‘the rich man to the beggar’ is present, doing their best to survive and rebuild in the devastated landscape.
The overarching theme of the album centres on the healing power of community. The opening We Do What We Can may be ushered in by the sound of the sweeping rain but the track strikes an early note of uplifting defiance. Boden introduces a whole cast list of morally ambivalent characters on the album, but by the time we draw to a close with the hymn-like Has Been Cavalry there is unity in the rallying cry of ‘you’ve seen one flood, you’ve seen them all’.
The album generates a lot of its power from the understated grace of Boden’s delivery, which is certainly a revelation after the rather crazed style he is wont to adopt with Bellowhead. The mixture of folk and rock allows the arrangements plenty of room to breathe and there is enough drive here to attract even the most sceptical rock fan.
Full marks then to Boden and Navigator for having the cojones to put out a concept album in this, the year of flippant electro-pop. That this glorious album will be remembered long after this week’s hyped offerings are forgotten is a testament to its power.