Thursday, May 16, 2013

Banshee Reel - Orchaestrated Litany of Lies (1995)

Now defunct Wellington band, Banshee Reel, are one of the best New Zealand bands from the mid 90s. Their sound is a fusion of folk and country, with a strong Irish element. They are competent musicians, skillful songwriters and sadly parted ways. Guitarist, Julia Deans, is now a member of Fur Patrol. She is responsible for the female vocals on the album, with Chris O'Connell and Allan Clark sharing the male vocals.

The album looks pretty cheaply made. The cover is white, a simple singlefold affair. Half the cover is some sort of peasant jester, covering half his face, the other is the title set out in a not very exciting font and displaying a somewhat lack of typesetting. Inside there is a band listing and a message to the people of New Zealand, Canada and Alburqueque, as well as a threat to some folks that stole their band equipment.

The album opens with the strumming, tinkliness of "Sorrow", like teardrops dripping down a painted, wooden face. Vocals are filled with sorrow, bittersweet and angsty, with a touch of an Irish accent. Or maybe kiwi-Irish. Catchy rhythms.A rather dramatic mandolin solo.

Slower, bolder; "Never Can Tell" has a slight country-hint to the rhythms and plenty of acousitc guitar. This is a song of murder, deceit and all beautifully sung with accompaniment from Deans and the lislting flight of a tin whistle.

Vocals lead us into "Blood on Your Hands", and then the instruments bounce in with almost carnival-esque rhythms: strong and bold and fast. Fast and surprisingly bouncy given the context is, once again, murder.

There's a brief reel and then we are into the looming, haunting "Lament".  An entrancing, otherworldy piece with beautiful harmonies, backed with strings and guitar. One of the finest, most atmospheric folk songs I own - this is the song that sold the album to me. Well, the cassingle - the album came some years later.

This is followed by the most devastatingly heart-breaking track on the album. "The Miner" starts with piano, but is largely dominated by the heart-renching vocals. Listen to the lyrics - they will haunt you and linger with you and bring a tear to your eye. The music is a soft, sorrowful accompaniment.
".. I don't blame you for leaving, my lovely; I don't blame you for leaving this slum. It was no life for you, watching me die, but I wish was out in the sun..."
 Deans gets the leading vocals on "Honest to God". Not my favourite song - more old school kiwi feeling than Irish, even with the accompaning fiddles. Good pace and entirely danceable.

"In Yer Dreams" is far more rockabilly country-esque with its fast, chugging pace and catchy choruses. Same vocalist as "The Miner".

It's back to the bittersweet melodies with "40 Miles of Pain" - it has a fast pace but the vocals and the voice of the string instruments lend a melancholic air.

More traditional folk - "Burn Me" has nice rhythms and somewhat morbid lyrics.
"First I heard her screaming when I laid my head to sleep. She turned my dreams to nightmares enough to make me weep..."
I'm not sure if she's a real person, deceased or some sort of demonic spirit. Probably the second or third option.

Another with strong country influences, "I Haven't Time" rocks along at a cracking pace, mostly guitar with a hint of fiddles.

"Horses" is slower, with wonderful folk rhythms and  the vocals like a gentle caress. This is listed on the cassingle as "Equus: Fear of Tides". Another achingly haunted piece.

We conclude with "Lament II" - the same structure and rhythms, but slowed down into bittersweet melancholy and with different lyrics (I think) and possibly more strings. A majestic, beautiful piece and a wonderful way to conclude.

Banshee Reel were a talented and original band, that I wish could have been with us for longer. Their music is sublime, variable and gorgeously emotive and their songs linger with you and haunt you for hours afterwards. There are some weaker tracks on this album, but they are vastly overshadowed by the powerful ones. They definitely deserve a 9/10.

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