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OYSTERBAND - Diamonds On The Water

OYSTERBAND - Diamonds On The Water
Navigator Records NAVIGATOR087

From its very earliest days, Oysterband has always had a certain schizophrenia about its career – parallel projects, varied functions (concert or ceilidh!), trad or contemporary. These were never mutually exclusive and each informed the other. Returning from a couple of years in the folkier landscape of the Ragged Kingdom (where the occasional white rabbit still tore it apart), they now present us with an utterly mesmerising return to their contemporary form. A dozen songs, only one of which is not by the band (more about that anon), that exceed the previous highs of their songwriting in every case. The album is produced with a rich, full sound that is crisp, clear and never cluttered, despite an astounding array of instruments and vocals. Song after song intrigues and inveigles with rich poetic verses and sucker-punch choruses that have you joining in by the first reprise.

The band’s five-piece line-up is enhanced by small brass and string sections on some tracks; Rowan Godel adds lovely top lines to vocals (check out her duet in Lay Your Dreams Down Gently or the soaring freeform harmony in the closing moments of Spirit Of Dust).

The closing song combines the writing talents of the band’s three main composers in a spare, acoustic, understated “ave et vale” which is the perfect close to a sublime album (except every time I reach it, it makes me want to start the whole thing again – not a bad thing except whole afternoons have thus been Oystered away).

The album’s one traditional song is a version of Once I Had A Sweetheart, performed in an arrangement created one night after having heard the song particularly badly performed. The backing has an uneasy urgency and an underlying anguish that matches the desperation of the lyric; it is also, as Alan Prosser points out, a song being reclaimed as a male song after many years of female possession (Owen Hand would be proud!).

Sometimes albums released early in the year are overlooked when end of year summaries and award voting come around. This February release will still be one of your most played albums when December is upon us. It’s a timeless, masterful achievement.

Nigel Schofield

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This album was reviewed in Issue 101 of The Living Tradition magazine.