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BAND OF HOPE "Rhythm & Reds" Musikfolk MFCD 512

When a singer of the calibre of Roy Bailey brings out an album there's no incentive needed to listen. It has class written all over it, in this case preceded by the word working.

"Rhythm & Reds" is an album of songs of dissent but to emphasise the fact that some things never change, all except one of the songs are by modern writers. By the way, for those among us who think that protest songs began with Guthrie or Dylan, well - we're only some six hundred years out.

According to Bailey, songs that ask questions rather than provide answers create not only an audience of a large number of individuals but also a community of people with a sense of solidarity. The songs on this album ask many questions.

When Bailey decided to form an acoustic band for this album he could hardly have chosen a more experienced crew. Band of Hope comprises Bailey on vocals, Martin Carthy on guitar and vocals, John Kirkpatrick on button key accordion and vocals, Dave Swarbrick on fiddle and mandolin and new kid on the barricades Steafan Hannigan on uillean pipes, whistle, bodhran and cittern.

Given the theme of dissent running through the album, it seems a bit inconsistent to include a Swarbrick instrumental pairing of Carthy's March and The Lemon Tree but it's so well played that criticism seems mean. Indeed, there are no substandard tracks on the album.

The singing is powerful, the musicianship is as good as you'll hear anywhere and some of the songs leave lasting impressions, for example Robb Johnson's "The Ballad of Vic Williams" - a soldier to the Queen - with the following couplet on the Gulf War:

"You couldn't hear 'Give Peace a Chance' for Bishops giving thanks And most of the Brits that never came back Got blown to bits by Yanks"

If you're of the opinion that Thatcher's Britain was Utopia, the Poll Tax was a breakthrough in burden-sharing and the only Big Issue is Will She or Won't She? then this CD isn't for you. If, on the other hand, it's questions you're after ...

Alan Brown

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This album was reviewed in Issue 8 of The Living Tradition magazine.