The Lonesome Losing Blues is the first release from Brighton-based The Mountain Firework Company in four years since their critically acclaimed 2008 release Samurai. You may ask what they have been up to in the intervening period – well, they have been delighting audiences throughout the country with their energetic, almost incendiary live show. They really seem to pack a punch with their full-on rocking acoustic bluegrassy folk. Double bass, guitar, fiddle, mandolin and percussion crowd around Belfast-born Gareth MaGahan’s yearning, lamenting and soulful vocals. They record “as live” which gives an immediacy and even a vibrancy to the recording. Dan Swift’s production (Snow Patrol, Kasabian) brings a fullness and roundness to the sound which highlights the musical talents on offer. The music gives a nod to modern popular folk but digs it’s heels in with a refreshing display of honesty and authenticity. These guys are in it for the music – not the fame.
This album, as it’s name would suggest, sees the band in a slightly more reflective mood. They seem troubled, and in some cases angry and this translates into some wonderfully cocky performances such as that on the track, Daylight Robbery. In other places there is a sense of sorrow which creates a mournful quietness and soothing quality to the songs. The tempo fluctuates as the album progresses – there are the traditional Mountain Firework Co bluegrass stompers in here to keep the hard-core fans happy.
The album’s opener Creeping Vine is an inconspicuous and infectious song, driven by double bass and banjo. “You’ve been growin’ on my mind just like a creeping vine”, sings MaGahan. The song does exactly that – you will be singing this when you wake up in the morning as you rub the sleep from your eyes. However, this is no lullaby – rather it’s a dark tale of poisonous romantic obsession which sets a sorrowful and intriguing tone for the rest of the album.
The story telling on Lonesome Losing Blues is masterful and well-crafted. A song about an innocent man being hanged for a murder that he did not commit, songs of love, heartbreak, regret and fury – they’re all here, and all executed with great passion. The sad songs on here are the most alluring. Birdsong is a desperate cry for one more chance to hear the birds sing, one more taste of wine, one more kiss. The sorrow and yearning of a man approaching his demise is beautifully drawn out in this song. Lower Me is another tear-jerker performed with emotion and grace. It is a song sung from beyond the grave to a love standing at the graveside. The soft vocals from MaGahan and whispered backing vocals from the rest of the band create a ghostly and almost spine-tingling atmosphere. “Though my arms lie cold and I can no longer hold you through the wind, I’ll blow you a kiss so you’ll know…” – one day they will be reunited. This is the softest and most charming point on the album.
The title track can be summed up in the first line of the chorus – “Unrequieted, unrequired, unsatisfied, undesired, the lonesome losing blues are all that I know”. This is a great country blues outing – not self-pitying but definitely blue.
While there is, let’s face it, quite a lot of misery on this album it is brought to the table in many different styles and in places, entirely tongue-in-cheek. Daylight Robbery is a prime example where the tempo picks up and the bluegrass kicks in. McGahan’s humour really shines through as he plays a character demanding, like a highwayman, for his love to hand over her heart and soul. “I want it rough, I just can’t get enough” he spits in this smash and grab of a bluegrass stomper. This will easily slot into their energetic live set.
The rhythm stays upbeat on Gold as we head into science fiction territory in a song which sees the protagonist of the story is being drawn to the sky – a chariot of fire, shining metal eyes. Far-fetched stuff but this five minute fable is delivered with a sincerity which wonderfully describes the lead character’s paranoia brought on by some terrible ghost riders in the sky. The chorus of backing vocals lend a country edge to the song as it soars across the dark skies and echoes into the distance. Great stuff!
Finally, the album returns to a more earthly note with the soft lamentation Tonight. A dream-like, ethereal introduction makes way for a plodding love song sung out of desire. “Tonight, I’ve got your so sweet body to hold, at least I might, in my dreams”. A song of unrequieted love or a love lost. Either way, this is a soothing and emotional end to the piece which begs the listener to hit the play button again and go right back to the start.
The Lonesome Losing Blues is an album which displays a softer side to the Mountain Firework Company. It is an album which brings some gravity to their catalogue without ever taking itself too seriously. McGahan’s lyrics are wonderfully crafted and the tunes flow almost effortlessly around and through them. There is enough variety here to keep even new listeners interested as well as appealing to those who have already staked their allegiance to the band. With the ongoing rumblings of popular folk giants such as Mumford & Sons there is no reason why a band such as The Mountain Firework Company can’t grab a bit of the limelight – if they want it.
Review by: Craig Walker