The Travelling Band - Screaming Is Something
I don't know why but I'm at my happiest when I'm anticipating some future event or occurence. I think the technical phrase for it is 'delaying my gratification'. You see when I was a kid I didn't have all that much money and I had to save for the stuff I wanted and I still enjoy looking forward to something.
One thing I've been looking forward to for many months (and probably years) is the Travelling Band's second album. Their first album 'Under the Pavement' was recorded right at the dawn of their career before they'd even played live much. Since then they've become a great live band and have two great songwriters in Adam and Joe. The first album was a little disappointing because by the time it came out the guys were playing a whole load of songs they'd subsequently written which were mainly superior to the songs on the first album. Also they'd continued to work on the early songs and some of these were now much better than in their original recorded versions.
The gestation of the second album has been a slow process. Finally though it is out and not only that but the guys have signed to Cooking Vinyl which is a well respected label that mainly specialises in rootsy and folky stuff probably most famously Billy Bragg (though they are the current home of the Prodigy as well).
So my long wait is over and I have the album and I have listened to it. Its always a bit strange listening to an album when you are pretty familiar with most of the songs. Its great to hear the songs in their studio form when all I've had is live versions. But still you miss the shock of the new.
The album opens with the new single 'Fairweather Friends'. This is one of the band's newest songs and is a fair indication that they are heading into slightly rockier territory away from their more rootsy, folky and alt-country origins. As a long standing fan you might think this would annoy me. In fact I'm pretty comfortable with the direction they are taking.
There are a lot of folky bands around in the aftermath of Mumford and Sons success. It worries me that some good artists who pre-date Mumford and Sons and are frankly much better are going to get caught in the inevitable backlash to the fact that record companies are desperately trying to sign up anybody with a mandolin or banjo. I'm thinking primarily of Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling. Noah and the Whale have already headed in a new direction and its nice to see the Travelling Band doing the same.
I discussed this with Joe and he's adamant that this isn't a pre-meditated careerist move but instead a genuine progression. When you listen to the band's newest songs they are definitely more 'shiny poppy rock' and less 'gnarly rootsy' but this has been coming for a while. Actually the careerist move would have been to play up to their folk-rock side, as I say there are record companies trying to sign up this kind of band.
The songwriting is split 50-50 between Joe and Adam with each contributing five songs to the album. In the past its always been easy to distinguish between the styles of their songs. Joe's are usually more obviously catchy and the kind that the postman will be whistling. He's written the majority of the songs released as singles. Adam's are usually more slow burning. The kind that take a few listens to get into. However Adam's most recent efforts which have made it onto the album : 'Magnetic Anywhere' and 'The Horizon, Me and You' are probably the catchiest things on the CD. Conversely Joe has written a slow burner himself in 'Hindsight'. 'The Horizon, Me and You' was released as a limited edition vinyl single last year and was an early indication of the new direction. In my opinion its one of the strongest songs on the album.
Because of the slow gestation of the album some of the songs are very old and were in the live set almost as long as I've been going to see these guys live. Possibly the oldest is the final track 'On The Rails' which was actually originally released on one of the pre-first album EPs that the Travelling Band released. It also got a second bite of the cherry as a digital b-side to a single from the first album. Although this is a great song and one of the mainstays of the live set it is a little disappointing that Adam didn't put one of his unreleased songs on instead.
'Sundial' I would guess is almost as old. I think the problem with this one was that Joe was not happy playing it live without the violin part that he felt was essential. So they only really bought it out when their occasional member violinist Hannah played with them. On the recorded version they've really gone the whole hog and put brass as well as strings on it and it sounds awesome and it was rather chucked away as a single last year. Finally as well Joe seems happy to play it live without violin.
Its also great to see that 'One Dime Blues' which is always one of the highlights of the live set has made it onto the album. The lyrics are taken from an old song by a blues singer called Blind Lemon Jefferson. The tune meanwhile was knocked up by Joe for a friend's wedding. They were invited to take part in a tribute to old blues records and this song was the result. With beautiful four part harmonies (ex-member Snaf Ballinger contributes to this song as well as others on the album) and great atmospherics this song always brings the hairs up on the back of my neck.
All in all this is a great album. The sound of the album is brilliant as well. You can hear each individual instrument and vocal harmony. All the strengths of the band are on display. Adam and Joe's vocal harmonising is perhaps best witnessed live but you can hear it on the record as well.
Of course nothing's perfect and I have a few gripes. Firstly the ordering of the album isn't perfect. Two of what I feel are the strongest songs ('One Dime Blues' and 'The Horizon, Me and You') are stuck towards the back of the album with two of the weaker songs 'Fairweather Friends' and 'Screaming is Something' at the front. I'm not a big fan of 'frontloaded' albums (where the singles are first and the filler at the back) but you have to make a strong statement to catch the neutral listener. Of course one person's weaker song is another person's absolute classic.
Secondly although singles are probably not that important anymore they are still the 'calling card' for the album. 'Fairweather Friends' isn't a strong enough song in my opinion. I would have preferred 'Sundial' or 'The Horizon, Me and You' to be re-released.
Still such gripes are minor. Its brilliant to hear the Travelling Band produce an album which does the great set of songs they've been playing live, for the last couple of years, justice.
Please please do yourself a favour and get out and catch this brilliant band live and buy their cds. Go here for their latest touring information as well as details as to how to get their music: www.thetravellingband.co.uk