Rise Above - Oysterband
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Rise Above
Omnium (www.omnium.com)

cd cover Back in the 1980s and early 90s, it seemed as if folk-rock bands with a punk edge would forever pour out of the U.K. But a funny thing happened on the way to the bar; the whole genre became co-opted by Pogues wannabes, and releases in the genre became boring and predictable. Mining the English tradition, though, the Oysterband had for the most part shrugged off their traditional dance days to carve out their own niche in the folk-rock world. All these years later, each new Oysterband CD promises to add to a solid body of work that leaves any imitators in the dust.

And so it is with their latest, Rise Above. Where their previous CD, Here I Stand, tended towards songs that were a mite too wordy, Rise Above gets everything right. John Jones' voice cracks slightly on the opening "The Soul's Electric," and the effect is lovely; when he asks "Spirals of love and war/We can't take either-or/Is your love worth fighting for?" you're hooked. Oysterband seems to be more comfortable working in the pop idiom than ever before, and revisit themes we love them for: political passion ("My Mouth," full of sexy anger) and soul-searching ("Everybody's Leaving Home"). "Wayfaring" is about as full-bore an English rocker as anything the Oysters have written, but it does something unusual: the tune essentially drops out and a new one takes over, buoyed up with female vocals and uillean pipes, conveying a sense of hopefulness and joy. We also get two traditional tunes, one of which is the oft-covered "Blackwaterside" (a disappointment which hardly compares with Spriguns' 1977 rock treatment of the song). The other trad. arr. is the acappella "Bright Morning Star," a glorious full-throated hymn which ends the record.

While the entire set rocks, Oysterband have managed to balance power with an underlying sweetness; in large part, this is due to the contribution of James O'Grady, who adds uillean pipes to several tracks. I will admit to missing Jones' melodeon work, which is pretty restrained here; however, the group has never sounded so united, rhythmic, and optimistic. - Lee Blackstone

Oysterband online: www.oysterband.co.uk

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