Since getting together in 2002 Mawkin have released two highly acclaimed albums. Their debut album, The Fair Essex, was released in 2007 and was selected by MOJO magazine as one of the folk albums of the year, whilst 2012’s Crow featured collaborations with Eliza Carthy, Steve Knightly and Jim Causley and met with wide critical acclaim. Between their own recordings, a short-lived side project with Jim Causley, Mawkin: Causley earned the participants no less than three BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominations for their EP Cold Ruin and album The Awkward Recruit.
While Crow was a collection of modernised ancient folk instrumentals from around the world with few lyrics, the Essex quintet’s latest album The Ties that Bind puts the focus firmly onto songs of rebellion, which they say are unapologetic, gritty tales of being tied to something, somewhere or someone. Fans of the earlier release need not be disappointed though as a few wordless tracks are included for punctuation, allowing a breath to be drawn or perhaps a dance to be taken.
The band’s description of the songs is confirmed straight away from the first track I Can Hew which concerns being tied to whisky, beer and the coalface. Traditional tune Collier Lads was turned into a shanty by David Dodds’ lyrics and was later adapted into a long stick dance by Nat Case. Mawkin’s arrangement pairs it with Playford dance tune Lady Dainty which is very effectively driven by James Delarre’s violin, Nick Cooke’s melodeon and pulsing electric bass from Danny Crump.
The alcoholic theme continues with nineteenth century protest song Jolly Well Drunk, which is reminiscent of the folky side of Chumbawamba’s output in its jazzy singalong and part-spoken lyrics. The perceived similarity to the anarcho-punk band is fitting as Mawkin acknowledge their recording of Song on the Times (on album English Rebel Songs 1381-1914) as the inspiration for its inclusion here.
The Frenchy Set is a stirring example of Mawkin’s invigorating instrumental pieces that might be considered their trademark and the first of three music-only breaks. An old French dance piece is followed by two from English hurdy-gurdy player Nigel Eaton, all arranged for the band’s own instruments to bring a contemporary freshness to the tunes. A couple more dance tunes, this time from Brittany and Finland make up Duo and feature a playful violin weaving around a melodic melodeon as Breton meets polska.
Another Scandinavian melody – this time an old Swedish song – provides the backdrop for My Love Farewell and in these talented hands it sounds like a new song that could easily belong in a Randy Newman film score. Traditional but far from usual sea shanty Shanghai Brown is an interesting choice: it is referred to in the CD booklet as an ‘anti-shanty’ because the song’s narrator is “well inclined to go to sea no more” rather than enjoying the usually-celebrated gallivanting life of the stereotypical sailor.
The listener’s time in Mawkin’s company concludes with the comparatively simple sounding yet gorgeous children’s playground tune Young May Moon. The melody is played out on violin, guitar and finally melodeon to provide so fitting a closing piece that the album’s credits might be imagined to be scrolling by on an imaginary screen while it winds to its conclusion.
The Ties that Bind finds Mawkin at their brilliantly inventive best, displaying plenty of the uninhibited energy that they have become known for. They produce a full sound that might usually be associated with larger ensembles – and it sounds like they are having a lot of fun too!
Review by: Roy Spencer
For more information and tour dates visit: http://www.mawkin.co.uk/