‘All The Good Friends’ the second album from Red Shoes(February 08, 2013)
Watch, or more precisely, hear a band go from ‘developing a following’ to taking time-out (for family life) then from the vestiges enkindle again to place ‘a few songs on MySpace’. Then release a seminal folk rock album and follow that (albeit a while later) with another masterpiece – this is not only refreshing and a vindication of the band’s belief in their art, it's a statement about their musicianship and songwriting skills. ‘All The Good Friends’ the second album from Red Shoes, is that masterpiece.
However, there’s a distinct feeling of change about this album. It’s deeper, more mature and even more personal than its predecessor ‘Ring Around the Land’. Now there’s starkness, a reflection that lets you into fragile feelings and deep-seated secrets hidden within these songs. If anything, Carolyn’s voice, which already carried considerable presence and intensity gains even more strength with the raw emotion it conveys, and becomes increasingly potent.
The album opens with ‘Red Coat Ride’ an impassioned rant against the horrors of fox hunting (surely a future folk rock classic); the strength of the songwriting goes up a notch with the ominous tone of ‘The Well’ complete with softly scorching guitar breaks. Then come two inspirational songs - ‘Hidden Name’ and ‘Sunday Afternoon’ - the first an intensely personal reminiscence filled with longing driven home by a bamboo whistle, the second a supplicant plea for that one extra minute that none of us have - complete with achingly precise fiddle. Oh my word, these songs hit home and Carolyn’s voice will touch your soul.
The folk rock anthem that is ‘If this is life’ comes with superb melody, Mark on lead vocal, perfectly placed mandolin and violin, and lingers long after it fades. It’s followed by an endearing acoustic version of ‘Blackberry Way’ (who would have thought it) brought to stunning life by Carolyn’s delivery. And for stripped bare emotion ‘River Rea’ is quite frankly one of the most harrowing songs I’ve heard in years. The vulnerability of its child-subject, its overbearing sense of foreboding and the terrifying odour of guilt left behind fills you with a feeling of impotent anger and measureless sympathy. This spares the audience nothing but it’s worth the agony.
Sometimes reviewers refer to songs as ‘personal’. The songs on ‘All The Good Friends’ move way beyond that into the realms of private and confidential and yet the band is ready to share those intimate moments. And so should you. Hard though the lyrics may be you will find part of yourself wrapped in their essential truth. Before the hurt gets too much there’s an injection of levity with the gentle hook of ‘Swansong’ with its sing-a-long chorus, surely set to become a much-requested Red Shoes live rendition.
On ‘All The Good Friends’ Red Shoes have doubled from duo to four-piece. Playing alongside Mark (acoustic guitar, vocals) and Carolyn Evans (vocals) there’s now Tony Kesley (acoustic, electric and baritone guitars, mandolin, backing vocals) and Bert Priest (drums, shaker). They’re also joined on the album by some guest ‘Fairporters’ - Dave Pegg (bass, ukulele, mandolin) Chris Leslie (mandolin, violin, bamboo whistle) Ric Sanders (violin) - also adding their talents are Dave Swarbrick (fiddle) with Bill Hunt (French horn, harmonium) Bev Bevan (drums, backing vocals) Rob Mason (percussion, drums, tambourine) Brian Badhams (bass) plus Sally Haines, Mick Dolan and Julian Crook (backing vocals).
Reviewer: Tim Carroll