Words by Pedro Miranda
Hailing from the Midlands, U.K. based psychedelic folk-rock band, The Lords Of Thyme, are due to release their debut album, ‘Pellets‘, on vinyl through Sunstone Records in October. The album features Joe Woolley, the group’s main writer, on guitar and lead vocals, Michelle Woolley on vocals, Pat Kenneally on drums, balafon, keyboards and also vocals, Stephen Barlow on pedal steel, and Tali Trow (who also recorded and mixed the album) on bass, guitars, Mellotron, mandola and vocals.
It isn’t hard to hear that The Lords of Thyme have followed a path widely spread by folk-rock pioneers, Pentangle and Fairport Convention, by combining traditional English folk music with jazz, rock, and blues…although ‘Pellets’ is not by any means a simple Fairport Convention inspired folk-rock record; from the very beginning of the album ’til the very end, we are introduced to the Lords Of Thymes’ own individualistic folk music genre, their mixing of influences from dark traditional music, to early 1970’s introspective psychedelic songs, makes for a unique and original LP. The aesthetic of the album is smothered in influences from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s; the timbres, which vary from Hammond Organ to raw guitar sounds, were well chosen, and the mix helps a lot in the characterization of the texture in their sound. One thing that differentiates this album from a lot of folk-rock records, is the brilliant keyboard work. You hardly see an arrangement, in the folk genre, where the organ commands the dynamics of the whole song, yet at the same time doesn’t overpower a track.
The album opens with traditional English folk song, “Bruton Town”. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that their version of “Bruton Town” isn’t far off the version on Pentangle’s first album, or the one sung by Sandy Denny. The track starts with an acoustic guitar, Michelle’s melodic vocals follow soon after, introducing the whole band who quietly follow her, soon new elements start to appear and the dynamic grows and grows until the music vanishes into an ambient jam guided by a jazzy drumline and ghostly organ sound. The next track is “George Collins”, this one walks more in a folk direction, with acoustic instruments and beautifully arranged well executed vocal harmonies, which emphasise the morbid and dark tone of the lyrics about death.
As a contrast from the previous dense and dark songs, the one that follows up is an upbeat catchy tune. Despite the fact that The Lords Of Thyme’ sound is, what you might call, “essentially British”, “The Bird It Sang” has one foot firmly in American folk-rock from the sunny West Coast, the general sonority resembles the late 60’s and early 70’s Grateful Dead songs, and The Byrds guitar rhythms, inspired by Ravi Shankar, while an electric piano fill the gaps between the guitars, vocals and the Hammond organ. The song works very well as an interlude in the record since the previous two tracks, and the anterior as well, are more introspective.
Side A ends with, “Morning Came”, which in my opinion, is the most beautiful song of the record; Joe’s warm vocals are projected, along with fingerstyle acoustic guitar, all of which hold a melancholy comparable to Leonard Cohen. As the song continues, a highly reverbed Mellotron enters to give a glimpse of blue, the tenderness of the song keeps reminiscing on a nostalgic past that has never happened – or even how the relationships and the world keeps renewing themselves as a natural way of living – as in the verse “Love may change but change she finds”. The track ends with a slow fadeout and a shimmering and distant acoustic guitar jamming lonesomely. Side B opens with, “Coming Down”, a song that could almost be heard on Nick Drake’s, Pink Moon, yet sprinkled with British Trees-style acid folk, the vocals are slow and sorrowful but the Hammond organ and a reverbed Pedal Steel guitar rule the dynamic of the music, which eventually grows into a loud section with a guitar solo and organ that guides the track to a calm ending which prepares the beginning of the next song; “Fine Falling Rain” doesn’t seem to fit so well on the whole album, it hasn’t the incredible keyboard work featured in almost every song nor the dense ambiance that the band produce in previous tracks. The idea of the music, I suppose, was to be a chill moment on the album, telling stories and impressions about the bucolic English countryside, but the arrangements lack creativity and personality… But that’s alright, the next track easily compensates this one;
“Freight Train To Rainham” is a short and snappy instrumental British blues number, conducted by an organ reminiscent of John Mayall & The Bluesbrakers. Other highlights are the well-elaborated drumline, the sixties guitar tone and the punctual electric piano phrases. It feels like this track and the next/last song of the album, “Keep On Travelling”, could have almost been merged into one track, they are so similar – “Keep On Travelling” works as an abstract of what they actually are, a modern band influenced by the dark melodies of traditional British folk music and the sounds of late-sixties psychedelic electric groups, with special care on the arrangements.
For fans of folk or psychedelic music, Pellets, should be at the top of your ‘to listen to’ list. Despite obvious influences from the likes of Pentangle to Fotheringay, they are not a pastiche of what has been done before; they have their own signature style and a unique personality regarding arrangements…
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