Before we go any further, I should clear up that “Faustian” comment above. I’m not suggesting that these gentlemen have partaken in any kind of Satanic pact. (It’s possible, but there’s nothing about it in the press release.) No, what I’m getting at is that there’s foot-stompery at play here, the likes of which I’ve not heard since the mighty three-piece, Faustus, took a trip to Grimsby. That’s not to say that Tarren, themselves a mighty three-piece, are mere Faustus clones. Far from it. But you could certainly make fair sport from putting the two mighty three-pieces on stages at either end of a field and seeing which one out-muscles the other.
The punch that a fiddle, squeezebox and guitar/bazouki/cittern combo can summon never fails to surprise me. Even unamplified, those instruments can wallop you in the stomach with as much of a thud as any souped-up kick drum. With the arrival of REVEL, a debut record that any sane band would envy, Tarren have put themselves in the same gut-punching ballpark as the aforementioned Faustus, Granny’s Attic, and Moore Moss Rutter (RIP).
Tarren are a tantalising prospect on paper, on record, and (if their Instagram posts are anything to go by) onstage as well. A mini folk supergroup, in effect, they’re made up of singer and strummer, Sid Goldsmith (the busiest man on the English folk scene?), hurdy-gurdy legend, Danny Pedler, and The Drystones fiddler, Alex Garden. Much of the debut album is instrumental, bringing the virtuosity of Pedler and Garden to the fore, while the handful of songs allow Goldsmith’s inner political animal to come out. Whether he’s updating and tackling ‘Rigs of the Time’ [Roud 876] or communing with nature on the Pedler-composed ‘You to Me’, he’s a singer with a point to make – exactly what we need in these flailing times.
Pedler’s compositional skills are notable from the get-go, and his influence can be felt throughout. The opening track, ‘Hardwood’, is one of his, as is the Bandcamp pre-release track, ‘De Rien’. He’s a man who clearly revels (pun noted) in a complicated time signature, and his tunes have a tendency to rattle about like thrillingly faulty Catherine wheels – there’s a definite crackle there, but the notes don’t fall where you’d expect them to. For this reviewer at least, that is an excellent thing.
Similarly, Alex Garden is a revelation. Fans of The Drystones will know all about them already, but for those who have yet to make their musical acquaintance: Garden has the tone and poise to be recognised as a fiddler of real note. If you’d like confirmation, allow me to point you towards ‘Hot Wax’, ‘Spring Polkas’, the melting, psychedelic glissandos that grace ‘Hornpipes’, and the final, fading notes of the last song, “Orange in Bloom”. Their biog says that they’re a student of John Dipper, mixing Scotts and English styles, and it really shows. There’s a skill at work here that puts me in mind of Sam Sweeney. This kind of praise doesn’t come lightly.
It’s a beautifully recorded album, too. I’ve said it already, but tunes like ‘Salt & Sweet’ invite you in and demand that you stomp along with all the abandon you can muster. That’s as much to do with the quality of sound in your earbuds as the musicianship itself. That it was recorded and mixed by one of the band members (Alex Garden), rather than a dedicated producer, is really quite remarkable. It’s like a hearty but finely-balanced stew. So much to dig into. So much to savour. I recommend you pull up a chair and order yourself a serving. Make the most of it. REVEL, if you will.
REVEL is out on August 29th and can be ordered from Tarren’s Bandcamp page. For more on Tarren themselves, head to tarrenmusic.com.