Comprising Tim Wilkinson (vocals and acoustic guitar) and Jim Griffiths (electric guitar) Gloucestershire duo Nettlesmith have been making music together, on and off, since the 70s. Cookin’ In Satan’s Kitchen, though, seems to be their first actual CD release, a six track EP / mini-album of five Wilkinson originals and one cover that bears occasional testament to such diverse influences as Elvis Costello, Justin Currie, XTC, Mark Knopfler and Tom Waits, embracing both English and American folk roots.
The latter’s clearly in evidence on the title track, a sort of spooked mandolin-backed mountain music dark gospel with creepy lines about burying a raccoon supper with the eyes “pointin’ downwards”, birds that spit poison in your mouth and diggin’ down to Satan’s kitchen. Sporting a nervy acoustic guitar backing, traditional English folk underpins the equally disturbing Willowman, the story of a man’s fateful turnpike encounter with a mysterious figure come to collect his ghost.
The six-minute Fall of Trees is also rooted in English folk music, but there’s a more contemporary resonance that balances hope in its images of green shoots growing with a lament for a nation in decline, brought low by Tony Blair who “sent our children into the fire, sold England’s word like a whore.”
It’s back to a faded America and an old time dance-hall for the wistful waltzing, mandolin accompanied bittersweet regret of Calico & Sawdust as the soft sand voiced Wilkinson sings of “motion suspended in amber and must, like an old silent movie, flickered in rust.”
A solid, circling watery guitar version of Marc Cohn’s One Safe Place gives way to the final track, Anchor Up Captain, a swaying protest number where, to strummed acoustic guitar (and midway electric solo), Wilkinson marries a shanty styled melody to lyrics expressing distaste for today’s sceptered isle of cellphones, halfwit celebrities, captains of industry bullshit and “CCTV pretendin’ it’s keepin me free” with a rousing heave away chorus of “Anchor up captain, this island’s not for me, I’ve a hankering for a cave down in Antipody where the walls are all painted with fine summer ladies and visions of winter are banished to Hades.” At this stage in their musical careers, the ‘two old geezers with guitars’ likely harbour no ambitions beyond a healthy local date sheet and shifting some copies of the CD at gigs. On the evidence here, they may need to revise that upwards.
Review by: Mike Davies