Formerly of London bluegrass folk-skiffle outfit Indigo Moss, the husband and wife team Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou have been working as a duo since the band split, their three albums to date steeped in English and American folk music traditions. The latest album Expatriot, however, marks something of a departure, liberated, as they put it, from their “folk shackles” and joining forces with producer Ethan Johns for an often down to the bone sound.
Long time followers should not, however, worry too much about them abandoning their musical roots, they’ve just spread them a little wider. You’ll hear bluegrass banjo on the sparse, trad-flavoured ballad Catch Me Out, whilst The Pigeon People has an almost jazzy, Parisian vibe. The fragile Our Tryingest Hour, with its filigree guitar work and Trevor’s almost talked delivery, reminds me of Lesley Duncan’s Love Song and the strings-brushed If Only I Were The Kind, on which their vocals interweave through the barbed irony verses, has that same English folk music leafy dankness of Nick Drake.
The punning title track opener, etched with strummed acoustic and harmonica, has a raw feel to it, part troubadour-punk sensibility and part folk blues, the catchy Galley Hill is redolent of 60s folksy pop, and, with a vintage Lorenzo organ drone intro, Babe To Cradle is a lovely, Dylan-echoing number with Moss’s voice backdropped by quiet, delicate fingerwork.
As ever their lyrics, veined throughout with images of disillusion, doubt and loss, are as pungent as ever. Social comment is to the fore on the state of the nation title track while The Relinquished is a protest song (with obligatory mouth harp intro) about working for the man (“your mother didn’t raise you to work in this factory, cap in hand for annual leave”) and, suitably striking familiar Guthrie-esque notes, the strummed close harmony Up Mercatoria concerns the new depression and its impact on blue collar mechanics and vanity boutique owners alike.
The winds of change blow through the songs with a chill of despair rather than hope. Babe to Cradle sports revolutionary line “you callous kings and queens, it’s time to lay down your rusty crowns, they don’t impress us anymore”, but concludes that “even the bravest need to know when to kneel.” In a world where “dusk bites like a dog” and “we’re hanging by a thread”, the past is shot through with bittersweet poignancy; on Old Red Box she sings about how “we’ll live here but never be home” and, built around memory of childhood and family, One And The Same seems to be about how, at the end of the day, “when there’s nobody left to forget us”, victory and failure blur together and nothing really matters.
Thank god then, that, after all this negativity, the album ends with a note of optimism. Calling to mind The Lovin’Spooful, A Better Day, is a lazing jug band number, complete with strummed ukulele and kazoo, which, while it may be about being dumped or made redundant, sees the sun not the clouds, the chance of a new love or a brighter tomorrow, ending on the lines “maybe today’s not your day to fly. Why not try again when the weather is fine. All them other birds who snigger as they flutter by were in your shoes once upon a time.” Take them under your wing.
Review by: Mike Davies
Out Now via Clubhouse Records UK