It may come as a surprise to some to learn that Dorset and Oxfordshire could successfully be represented as the origins of a hinterland, the term often associated with the blurred and dissonant edge of things ‘not quite real’, beyond what is visible and known. Stranger still, maybe, for this particular hinterland to be occupied by a husband and wife duo for which the rolling hills and chocolate-box cottages of both counties are a façade behind which the organic sounds of Appalachia and American roots music reside. If Martin and Kerraleigh Child’s Ubiquity Project Records debut album, nearly five years in the making, is anything to go by, we should expect to see more sugar maple and yellow buckeye amongst the oaks and jug bands replacing indie kids in the public houses.
Behind the suitably spectral album cover is a variety of styles you can, if you are so inclined, loosely term alt. Americana. Pleasingly, they hang together well, driven by a clear understanding of the raw dynamic in the music and their voices, Kerraleigh’s in particular, which has a touch of Amy Allison in its strident cry. The album twists and turns like autumnal winds. The tracks stretch from foot-stomping workouts like first track Wooden Trunk Blues and pile-driving Forty-Rod of Lightnin’ to the Gothic mist-on-marsh twilight of Radiator Song or commercial candy of forthcoming single Cut Yr Teeth (video premiered on FRUK here). For every frantic back-porch Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow there’s the measured delivery of Long Division or the one step forward-two steps back of Red Light On The Tower, all with hooks aplenty via mouth organ, guitar and a satisfyingly earthy snare and kick-drum sound (kudos to their production alongside Graeme Rawson).
Personal highlight High Town Crow starts with simple acoustic and a couplet that involves rhyming precipice with philanthropist. That would be enough for me without the edge of tension maintained by the rhythm and the one-line chorus that emphasises the eerie atmosphere, but the song then explodes into some manic strumming before winding down to the chorus and then gearing up for a bruised finale, by which time you don’t want to look up lest the protagonist is perched on a branch above you, weighing up your odds of survival. ‘This town forgets, he remembers’ is quite the kiss off.
There are great little features throughout. Whoever decided upon the long-held harmonica note at the beginning of Forty-Rod of Lightnin’ can give themselves a pat on the back; it’s genius. Ditto the banjo in The Ticking Of The Clock, which never steps forward to impose upon the acoustic but sits quietly in the background enhancing the simplicity of the vocal.
The August List share a spiritual home with the likes of Wilco and Mark Lanegan, but they can mix it up; Cut Yr Teeth is similar to The King Is Dead-era Decemberists and there are hints of Patty Griffin and Mark Olson throughout. These are very much their own songs though, very much their own history. They suit the shadowy world that exists somewhere between catchy and caught, commercial and corroded. Rust music for the radio, then; bring your WD40.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Out Now on Ubiquity Project Records
Order via Amazon