Quite without fanfare, it would seem that British folk is on the rise of late. Whilst some have recently panicked at rock’s apparently declining fortunes, the nation’s folksters are a generally more relaxed bunch, who over the last few years have quietly produced a not-insubstantial number of impressive records. To this number we can now add Oh My Days, the third LP from Stephen Cracknell’s The Memory Band, which comprises as good an argument as any that more eyes and ears should be focused in folk’s direction, if you can forgive the phrase.
The Memory Band’s folk is of the pastoral, bucolic sort and Oh My Days will most likely come into its own when spring and summer unfurl, such is its relaxing charm. Oh My Days is all about balance; rather than attempting to be an album in the coherent, contiguous sense, it is instead very much an album of songs, mixing up its delicate balance of varied instruments and vocalists to keep its audience engaged throughout. Indeed, when after a few songs the record hits its stride, its 42 minutes seem to drift by. The Memory Band know how to leave their audience wanting more, and leaving the songs on repeat is an inviting prospect. In particular, the worldly instrumental ‘Blackberry Way’ is always worth returning to.
The lyrics lean more often to the functional than to the exceptional, but there’s a wealth of uneasy fun to be had with ‘Some Things You Just Can’t Hide’, a tender duet which ambiguously depicts either the beginning or the end of a relationship. Cleverly, this song about things left unsaid deals in exactly the kind of vagueness its singers argue against, their pleas to “give it to me straight” earning our empathy right from the get-go. We’ve all been consumed from time to time by a need to know what someone thinks of us, and Cracknell’s crew provide a tune more than worthy of its universalist hook. Later, the somewhat ominous “Demon Days” offers a wise injection of darkness into the mix, making sure that Oh My Days‘ serenity never becomes overwhelming.
Like the wider folk movement, The Memory Band sound quietely confident in their abilities – not shouting from the rooftops, but instead putting in a solid and reliable performance. There are no explosively powerful moments here; this is a record of subtler charms, gradually working its calm magic over repeated, soothing listens. Similarly, no one voice or sound predominates, marking Oh My Days as a true team effort. Folk fans who favour more anarchic sounds – those of Bellowhead, for example – might find this LP’s approach a little too considered, but for those it captures Oh My Days will represent a strong start for a new year of UK folk.