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Album Review: The False Beards - Ankle (Ghosts From the Basement)


By Kev Boyd - Posted on 27 May 2013

 
When an outfit describe what they do as "old time English psych folk blues world twangery" you can pretty much guarantee two things: that their sense of humour is fully intact and their repertoire will be nothing if not eclectic. Such is the case with The False Beards, the latest collaboration between Ian Anderson and Ben Mandelson who boast a combined 90-plus years of live gigging between them and only a little less as recording artists. With that kind of pedigree it's no surprise that the level of musicianship rarely, if ever, falls short of virtuosic on this, their first full-length CD as a duo.
 
Much of the repertoire will be known to those familiar with Anderson's musical meanderings: A Sign Of The Times and Marie Celeste On Down date from his days as a self-confessed 'psych-folk twerp' in the early 1970s whereas The Panic Is On was an English Country Blues Band favourite dating from the depression-era United States that will resonate equally with contemporary audiences - plus ça change, and all that!

Anderson has the perhaps enviable claim to fame of possessing two separate ancestors who sang for some of the great English folk song collectors of the early 20th century and he reclaims his cultural heritage on two tracks on this collection: Ralph Vaughan Williams noted Lord Allenwater from his great grandmother in 1904 and Anderson has previously sung this with Blue Blokes 3 while The False Bride was collected by Cecil Sharp from Charles Norris in 1909. Guest Katie Rose takes on the vocals for these tracks and her presence adds a nice point of contrast to Anderson's singing elsewhere. In being reminiscent of the classic 1970s folk voice she manages to point up the essential Englishness of these songs. Not that Anderson's vocals are ever anything other than quintessentially English themselves and he rarely loses his West Country twang, even when tackling material rooted firmly in the American tradition that would have less confident singers dusting off their best midlantic drawl.

As well as handling most of the singing, Anderson plucks a mean acoustic guitar throughout and adds some occasional and well-placed slide guitar passages. Mandelson augments this with mandolin and his unique baritone bouzouki. That's more or less it save for Rose's vocal contributions, some muted trumpet from Peter Judge on one song and an incessant percussive stomp that pervades a number of tracks. Despite the eclectic mix of styles it's this relatively simple instrumentation that lends a sense of stylistic unity to these ten tracks. It somehow underpins everything from a seben characteristic of the Congolese tradition, a tune from Guinea, songs from the English tradition and the playful slab of Greekadelica that is their take on the Stones' Paint It Black.

Their approach is reminiscent of the era in which both protagonists originally learnt their trade: where young upstarts with guitars were just as likely to be found exploring obscure singer-songwriters, playing American country blues or tackling an Indian raga as they were singing songs from their own cultural tradition. It works partly because of that aforementioned virtuosity but also, as is often the case with the best musicians, because they make it all sound so utterly effortless!

The CD comes packaged in a neat, environmentally friendly digipak sleeve with song notes by Anderson and a cool Alex Bertram Powell cover illustration.

 
Kev Boyd
Northern Sky

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