‘Medicine for the Soul’ from The Vagaband - Americana with tinges of jazz, blues and rock(October 24, 2014)
More a steady increasing flow than a headlong rush, home-grown Americana continues to develop and thrive, and this ex-pat Coloradan finds considerable strength in the UK’s Americana output. Among those exponents well worth time and attention areThe Vagaband, an 8-piece Norfolk-based band that take the ‘traditional’ mix of fiddle, mandolin and pedal-steel guitar and then add clarinet, flügelhorn, glockenspiel, saxophone and piano, blending a diverse mix into ‘Medicine for the Soul’ that fuses original innovative Americana with tinges of jazz, blues and rock.
A slightly left-field intro ‘Top of the Morning’ of ethereal chant, leads towards the fullness of their sound through ‘Lifted’with their instrumental synthesis providing the ‘lift’, then ‘Black Sheep’ powers in followed by an extended visit to the more expansive ‘The Whistling Song’. The influx of ideas takes this album places that trad-Americana never thought to reach and that’s really the heart of this music. It’s unrestrained and inventive, with variations from intriguing sound bites through familiar routes to wholly different places. Think ‘Gabrielle’ or ‘Roll The Thunder’ for journeys down well-known roads, to the widening breadth of ‘Medicine for the Soul’, ‘Ten Bells Waltz’ and ‘A Different Drum’ leading into surprising spheres and experiences. Some traditionalists might hesitate with this album, nothing to fear though, they’ll come round, and on the way it will pull a wider audience under its spell.
The breadth of The Vagaband’s music reveals through the eclectic range of instruments in the line-up: José McGill (vocals, acoustic, electric and baritone guitars, autoharp, harmonica, mandolin, double bass) Greg Cook (piano, organ, dulcitone, marxophone, glockenspiel, hurdy gurdy, harmonies) Patrick Arbuthnot (pedal steel and resonator slide guitars) Joe 'The Bow' Wright (fiddle, mandolin, harmonies) Tristan Roche (bass guitar, double bass, jews harp, harmonies) Dan Reynolds (drums, percussion) Ali Houiellebecq (saxophone, recorder, clarinet, flute, whistle, spoons, vibraslap, whistling, harmonies) Hugh Stanners (flugelhorn, trumpet, squeezebox).
Reviewer: Tom Franks