Folk music can get bad press. It doesn’t have to be the case though. The Wild Man of Europe offer a new way, a path that builds on fine traditions, yet looks to the everyday world we live in.
The Wild Man of Europe are a 6 strong team led by Alec Bowman. You’ll find mandolins, flutes, cello and a singular trombone on ‘Chapter One’, for a full, rich sound. Their new album is called Gave Up The Ghost.
Comparisons occur with bands such as the modernity twisted Chumbawumba, the literate album pop of The The and even the simplicity of punk (I can imagine ‘Nowhere To Go’ being by The Saints if it was done with 3 chords and spitting).
‘That Dead Stare’ gives the image of The Pogues gigging at the court of King Henry VIII’s court. Which is to say it reminds me of ‘Greensleeves’, but in a way that doesn’t make your toes curl.
‘All I Can Ever Say’ boasts a surging energy and a sing along chorus. ‘Carion” is anthemic and soaring. ‘Chapter One’ is mournful and thoughtful.
‘Forest Floor’ contrasts mournful strings with lyrics about spewing outside KFC. The chorus is killer:
“The ephemeral is overrated / Nothing real ever consummated / All decay like leaves on the forest floor”
‘Sleepwalking Blues’ ends the album by putting the focus on guitars and a shuffling, laid back boogie. Intercut with pagan flutes it could be a lost track from Fisherman’s Blues.
What’s striking is the high quality of good old-fashioned singer-songwriter craftsmanship from Alec Bowman, following in the grand old tradition that runs from Ray Davies to Costello to Bragg to Hannon and onwards. The line “I’ll try anything twice, if it’s for you” could have been writer by any of your favourite singers. The album is chock full of lyrics that manage to be everyday and universal without being trite.
The Pogues were mentioned before but there are strains of Shane MacGowan in Bowman’s voice, as if some crazed scientist has isolated the genes of the Irish firebrand and reconstituted them in the body of someone who knows what day of the week it is.
I can’t say I love it all. Some of the country elements leave me a little cold (the start of ‘Neck Of The Woods’ for one), but that may be due to being allergic to the harmonica. On the flipside, the folk tinges I love, but some people may find it a bit too cheesy in a Guinness-advertising manner (‘Singing Your Praises To Me’). What I’m saying is, there’s a lot going on here, so pay yer money and take yer chances.
Click to listen to ‘Carion’