Pressgang - Outlandish
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Pressgang
Outlandish
Vox Pop

The English folk-rock band Pressgang have finally returned, with what is their strongest outing since the classic 1996 Fire album. The connection to the Fire-era sonic onslaught is no mere accident; for Outlandish, front man Damian Clarke has reconvened the Fire line-up of the band: George Whitfield on vocals, accordions, and keyboards; funk-grit bassist Cliff Eastabrook; and skins-pummeling Tony Lyons round out the swaggering sound of Pressgang at the height of their collective powers.

If this were issued on vinyl, I would have reduced the LP to the thinness of a communion wafer by now. In the late 1980s, Pressgang were part of a movement in English folk-rock known as ‘rogue’ folk; the Oysterband saw themselves similarly tagged in that genre. However, I think that Pressgang remained the flag-bearers of a movement that simply needed more followers. Around 1989, Pressgang released an absolute gem of an EP entitled Rogues!, one side of which was a full-on take of ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ that roared with punk intensity and that was offset by the sound of insects chirping merrily around a fire: in their youth, Pressgang were clearly one feral crew with a sharp, biting sound that was as sharp as Damian Clarke’s dastardly moustache. What is particularly fascinating to me is that Outlandish revisits some of the Pressgang classics of the Rogues!-era, crossed with the fury of the Fire record; in fact, I think that it is a comment on, and reconsideration of, the distinctive Pressgang oeuvre.

They dash out of the gate with ‘The Gypsy Bride,’ prefaced by a vocal introduction which gives way to Whitfield’s soaring accordion and the thunder of the Eastabrook/Lyons rhythm section. ‘The Outlandish Knight’ is a tune from the Rogues! EP, here considerably beefed-up with extra bounce from Eastabrook, whose dirty, dragged-out bass at the end of the tune is even more punk than the version released twenty-one years ago. ‘Blackbird’ reminds me of ‘Flanders’ on the Fire CD – the tune is similar -- providing a brief love ballad respite on the latest release. Other similarities can be drawn across the Pressgang discography: ‘Bonny Ship the Diamond’ and ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ date back to Rogues!, and the storytelling aspect of ‘The Gaberlunzie Man’ reminds me that Pressgang closed out Fire with a tale. I do not mean to suggest that Outlandish is derivative, because the album sounds fresh. For instance, the version of ‘Goode Ale’ that the band lays down here is very pagan, with vocals cast over percussion and a hurdy-gurdy workout by Clarke. But two tracks in particular warrant particular mention: ‘The Nobleman’s Wedding’ and ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies.’ ‘The Nobleman’s Wedding’ is a reggae treatment of this tune, and it is devastating, much as ‘Take a Jump’ was on Fire. When the band intones “How can you eat at another man’s table/how can you drink from another man’s wine,” I can only wonder why other groups who have attempted to fuse English folk with reggae cannot pull it off as well as Pressgang does here. Further, ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ features the cutting, ringing sound of Clarke’s guitar, an essential feature of Pressgang’s work, and the version that closes out this CD is insanely funky, with the chorus updated in raucous fashion. This is an unexpected work, one that rocks harder than one would expect, and a glorious return to form. Here’s hoping that Pressgang continues to get down to business in this form. – Lee Blackstone

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