Album Reviews

Rag Foundation – Uplands

(Fflach) UK release date: 17 November 2003

Rag Foundation - Uplands

Rag Foundation‘s Uplands takes its name from the area of Swansea from which this rootsy five-piece emerged, fully blinking into the sunlight, somewhere towards the end of the last century. This album follows hard on the heels of the Foundation’s much-praised debut, Minka, first released in 1999, but heavily re-promoted earlier this year in the wake of the band’s first wave of success. A hard to find EP, South By Southwest, is the only batch of new material fans have had to sustain them since that debut – but it’s been worth the wait.

There’s certainly no question of “difficult second album” syndrome with this release, which has been already much trailered in live performances. Quite the reverse in fact – its 13 songs are rich in contrasts, confidently embracing a multiplicity of musical styles and settings and providing an excellent showcase for the band’s various talents.

Melodically, comparisons have already been made with Teenage Fanclub, but the sheer quirkiness and range of Uplands suggests compatriots Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, or even, going further back, the Incredible String Band. Check out, for instance, the deliciously bonkers Big Red Balloon.

As with the Incredibles at their brilliant best, Rag Foundation incorporate subtle Indian drone influences into their music, demonstrating the links between Celtic folk music and the Eastern variety. There are also elements of blues and gospel running through the album, whose clarity of sound must, at least in part, be down to the engineering skills of Jim Hurst, whose CV also includes work with Norah Jones and, believe it or not, S Club 7.

Something Going On and She Sells Apologies have a wonderfully bruised quality, reminiscent of Jeff Buckley while Spend It In The Summertime is a distant cousin of Dodgy‘s Stayin’ Out For The Summer and, indeed, the album has much of the ragamuffin charm of that particular late-lamented Midland combo.

Kate Ronconi Woollard shines on the folky Thank You and the dark, fragmented Clwb Lullaby is a delight. Kate’s fiddle work is, if anything, under-used on this album, but the Eastern-European flavoured Nothing Is Revealed acts as a worthy showcase for her versatility.

Taken as a whole this is an album that creeps on you, that offers up its many riches a few at a time. It’s worth persisting however, for there really is magic in them thar grooves.

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