Album Reviews

The Martin Green Machine – First Sighting

(Navigator) UK release date: 9 February 2009

The UK folk scene is in a particularly fecund phase at the moment, and the outpouring of excellent music shows no sign of letting up with this latest offering from Lau’s accordion player Martin Green.

Green follows on from where his Lau bandmates Kris Drever and Aidan O’Rourke left off (with Before The Ruin and An Tobar respectively) by stretching his compositional muscles on this ambitious recording.

Like John McCusker‘s concurrent Under One Sky project, The Martin Green Machine started life as a Celtic Connections commission and also features a stellar cast list of English and Scottish musicians. These include jazz vocalist Sophie Bancroft, Karine Polwart and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy collaborator Inge Thomson as her vocal foil, a rhythm section comprising folk stalwarts Barnaby Stradling and Alyn Cosker, and SNO brass players Fergus Kerr and Andy McKreel.

Multi-instrumentalist and sample master Tom Cook is the joker in the pack, bringing some of the musical craziness of his Manni project to bear on First Sighting. Over all looms the figure of Green himself, who adds sampling trickery to his admirable accordion playing.

What is immediately apparent from listing the personnel is that First Sighting is going to be a radically different beast from McCusker’s Under One Sky. Giving the album an initial spin confirms this suspicion, for First Sighting is far more challenging and musically diverse than McCusker’s largely traditional offering.

The opening Repetition starts off with a scratchy, cod-Mexican voice avowing its love of accordion music, before said instrument launches a bizarre musical melange that includes a wailing rock guitar and parping brass. All the while a female voice repeats the phrase repetition to dizzying effect. This may be folk music Jim, but not as we know it.

The next track 23A settles into an intoxicating groove over which Green’s accordion essays a lilting melody. Before becoming too Martin Denny the track then bursts off into all kinds of strange musical corridors, taking in jazz, electronica and rock along the way.

After a spooky brass opening reminiscent of some of The Band‘s more outr� moments on Music From Big Pink, the sultry tones of Inge Thomson steer Quayle Paint into chill-out territory. Horse initially appears to be cast in the same mould, before Tom Cook’s ferocious guitar feedback rips the song to shreds in a thrilling middle section.

Give Up The Body features Demmy’s farcical rapping over a deranged brass arrangement, with Green’s accordion barely keeping the whole fandango in tune. Rory and PSP are equally out there, mixing chill out vibes with demented jazz in a thoroughly unsettling manner.

Can’t Use A Map sums up this manic record best: “Can’t use a map if you don’t know where you are.” If our more f�ted electronica and rock artists had even a smidgeon of this album’s imagination then the music scene would be an alarmingly rude state of health.

After Sophie Bancroft’s dreamy vocals on the prog-folk escapade that is Shudder, the album plays to a close with the disorientatingly conventional The Disappearing Platelayer, featuring the surreal poetry of Moff Skellington. Green saves his best trick for last; give the folk crowd a traditional track to really mess with their heads.

First Sightings will probably get a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize. True to form it won’t win (the judges will wheel out some dreadful indie band to hand out the gong to), but if just one more person hears this amazing album then it will have served its purpose.

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