Words by Nathaniel Handy
The latest album from Devon duo Steve Knightley and Phil Beer exhibits their trademark concern for making folk music speak to a wider audience about today’s issues. Wake the Union is only their latest rousing album title intent on reviving a dissipated sense of pride and community in an increasingly fragmented land.
Alongside long-time collaborator Miranda Sykes on double bass and vocals are a gaggle of other top talents. Fellow Devonian Seth Lakeman lends his services on the opener ‘Haunt You’, which he co-wrote with Knightley. There is also Martin Simpson on slide guitar, Andy Cutting on melodeon, Bellowhead’s Paul Sartin on cor anglais and Cormac Byrne on percussion.
The strong transatlantic strain that runs through this album is in part a response to recent work with Canadian banjo player Leonard Podolak, who appears on the album, and US folk singer Richard Shindell, whose track ‘Reunion Hill’ is covered. There are live favourites re-worked well in the studio: ‘Now You Know’, ‘Stop Copying Me’ and the arrestingly simple ‘Coming Home’. There are a few great covers: Dylan’s ‘Seven Curses’ and Chris Hoban’s ‘Katrina’. And there’s possibly the duo’s strongest state of the nation anthem yet, the understated and consequently hard-hitting ‘Company Town.’
As usual, there is a joyous sense of the band speaking to an existing community of fans, one that has been alive and growing for many years now. This is most obvious on the reflective closer, ‘Thanks’, concluding another fine excursion down the A303 into the great state of Devon.
TRACK TO TRY: Coming Home