When Tarren crystallised as a band, they could jam only using tunes pinged over the ether. First live dates were only in July this year, though the band were sure enough of themselves to play Sidmouth and Shrewsbury Festivals. It’s a name that will be fresh to most, though the membership reveals a longer pedigree. Danny Pedler’s collaborations have seen him sharing a stage with Greg Russell, also at Sidmouth, and with Shrewsbury’s new Director of Dance, Rosie Butler-Hall; fiddle and viola come courtesy of Alex Garden, familiar from The Drystones; while Sid Goldsmith, recently returned to Bristol, makes up the trio - indeed the City of Bristol gets a significant sleeve credit for providing the habitat and nurturing the music.
But, if you’re looking for the new Jimmy & Sid album, this is not it. For this album leans far more to the instrumental, and specifically dance tunes. Many of the tracks take their names straight from dance forms – hornpipes, bourrees, polkas and even a ‘stray’ polska. Morris tunes such as Old Tom of Oxford are a regular launching pad, a working method which braces them with Leveret, at times even employing the same trio of instruments.
There’s an even split between trad and their own compositions, just as there is between the contributions of each member; very often individual credits are found within the suites of tunes – so, each musician takes a separate credit for each of the bourrees.
But there are also some songs on which Sid takes vocal duties. Searching for Lambs is given the five time treatment, though it has almost a music box quality with each beat given equal emphasis. Yet little adornments from Danny’s accordion take it somewhere else before Alex’s strings vanish the tune into thin air. Rigs of the Times, whose lyrics are ever-adaptable to the times, is brought up to date with some Johnsonian verses that will ever be carbon-dated to 2022.
To shake off that cynicism, as if in relief, Rigs is followed by Alex’s Hot Wax which lifts, light-footed off the frets, buttons and boards, lilting in dotted rhythms, with a levity to rival John Dipper. Here is the Revel of the album’s title ‘to take great pleasure or delight’ as the sleeve notes tell us.
De Rien has a perpetual motion quality to it. Like opener, Hardwood, and that Stray Polska, this channels fellow Bristolians, Spiro, with its ever-spiralling themes. That said, there’s also a pounding, danceable rhythm behind that could lend itself to a schottische.
The spring polkas, all being named after flowers, you could be forgiven for thinking reflected Sid’s horticultural roots (sorry), but these are Alex’s tunes. Even though the pace picks up, these remain gentle polkas, not the kind for hoofing around at the end of a festival ceilidh.
By contrast, in Bourrees, the dancers would be in for a surprise, not just as the tempo quickens by a step change, but even more as beats get dropped to keep the dancer and listener on their toes. Tunes glancing off at tangents are the name of the game, just as they do in Hornpipes, though here those circular figures are back again, threaded through with melodies, fizzing with ideas.
As a good album should, it feels like there is a wordless narrative through the thirteen tracks, from opening with the first tune they played together, to the penultimate You to Me, a love song by Danny, with simple optimism reflected between lyrics and melody. Finally, Orange in Bloom leads us out gently, rambling, drifting, trading phrases between the three; more reveille than revel.
Reference points like Leveret, John Dipper and Spiro rightly sound like a strong recommendation. This collection is an exemplar of collaboration, a process of working together and enjoying that process, in fact revelling in it. If they carry on enjoying this as much as they seem to, we will be hearing more from them and I, for one, will be very happy to do so.
CD and download available from tarrenmusic.com