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Glasgow band The Skunnered are back with a new album of their own material; folk-rock is the most common categorization that they get stuck with but they cover a lot of ground really, with this new selection seeing them head in a more mellifluous direction courtesy of some smooth electric guitar work from Paul Shepherd and a more ambitious production job than I remember from their previous album. Take a listen to the atmospheric backing vocals on The Coldest Corner and you’d never guess that this was the same band that brought you the gruff hometown affection of Good Morning Glasgow Town.
They remain a hometown band, keen to celebrate their Glaswegian – and broader Scottish – heritage. A tribute to Robbie Burns, The Ploughman, follows a well-worked rocking take on the Burns poem The De’il’s Awa’ Wi’ The Exciseman whilst, later on, Bonnie Prince Charlie gets co-opted into the cause of Scottish Independence on the song Young Charlie. Getting a bit more local, Raintown addresses the climate that defines the city of Glasgow (guest keyboards and sax building a nice big sound here) whilst the cheerful blues scuffle of The Bar L Blues embraces the fact of life that the chances are that someone you know will end up doing a stretch behind bars – the Bar L being Barlinnie Prison.
Bassist Chas Cunningham is songwriter in chief and there’s a wry, worldly-wise tone to his writing that is very appealing. Vocals are mostly taken by mandolin and guitar player Andrew McMillan but everybody gets a shot which is a good way of keeping it fresh. I can’t help feeling, though, that the recruitment of a strong, distinctive vocalist would push this band onto another level, giving them a sound of their own to match their individual musical style.
Best Laid Plans definitely sees The Skunnered moving on, taking on new musical challenges as they broaden their horizons. The album closes out with a mellow instrumental track, Windmills, which features sax, flute, clarinet, harp and keyboards as a whole bunch of musical pals join in the party. I’d pick The Coldest Corner as my favourite track here. The boys get positively soulful as bags of echo build up a dreamy atmosphere but if you want to jig about, then The De’il’s Awa…is the track for you. All in all, a fine homebrew mix of music.
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