Triumphal album no.5 from Welsh folk/rockers Rusty Shackle.
Release Date: 19th August 2022
Label: Self release
Formats: CD / Download / Streaming
This one’s a gem – a real gem.
I hadn’t come across Rusty Shackle before, and heaven only knows why. They’re a six-piece folk/rock ensemble from Caldicot, Monmouthshire, and, by heck, they make some great music. It’s joyous, it’s well-structured, it’s rock-solid, it’s accomplished and, at times, it’s even incendiary. Rusty Tackle is a name to watch. Very closely. I’ve just returned from the 2022 Cropredy Festival and, believe me, if these chaps were ever given the chance to grace that hallowed stage, they would have the whole place ablaze!
The band are: Liam Collins on guitar and vocals, Scott McKeon on fiddle, banjo and vocals, Baz Barwick on guitar and tenor guitar, Ryan Williams on bass, George Barrell on drums and percussion and Alex McConnachie on guitar. Rusty Tackle was founded in 2010 and Under a Bloodshot Moon is their fifth album – it follows their 2019 offering, The Raven, the Thief and The Hangman, and I’m left wondering how I’ve managed to avoid them for so long. The guys list Bruce Springsteen, Seth Lakeman, The Decemberists and Arcade Fire amongst their influences and their music draws flavours from each of those – particularly, to my ear at least, Seth Lakeman – and mixes those flavourings into a base concoction of Celtic folk and classic rock. And, do you know? It works a treat.
A crisp drumbeat and some delicious vocal harmonies hit the listener straight away as the band fire into opening track, The Devil’s Pulpit, and the Seth Lakeman influence is evident from the outset. Scott’s banjo jangles and his fiddle notes fly around the room whilst the solid drumbeat persists and the lyrics tell their tale. And you know, for certain, that Under A Bloodshot Moon is going to be something special.
Lantern keeps up the pace and, if anything, the Seth Lakeman comparison is even stronger. Indeed, I would have sworn that this was a hitherto undiscovered Lakeman track, if I didn’t know any better! The band are tight, the music oozes with drama and listener disengagement is definitely not an option. Song Of The Sirens is, perhaps, a more considered number, but the banjo/bass pattern that sets the song’s pace is relentless and works its way under your skin and into your being.
Seldom have I heard three opening tunes on any album that so effectively evoke the spirits of heaven, Earth and elsewhere, and the call is irresistible.
But it doesn’t stop there, not by any means. Love is the Answer is a frantic rocker, powered along by banjo, fiddle and that relentless drumbeat, and the song’s chorus: “Love is the answer, what is the question?” is short, sharp and absolutely to the point. But, Under A Bloodshot Moon isn’t all breathless vibrancy either… The quit(er), contemplative Lost in Tokyo allows Rusty Shackle to show a gentler aspect of their talent. It’s an acoustic song with some nice Celtic-flavoured interludes and the song’s lyrics pay a gentle, respectful tribute to a great city.
The “How long have you waited here, for the rain, the rain to come?” lyric to Rain seemed both ironic and appropriate, listening, as I was, during the longest drought to hit these islands for almost 50 years. But the irony was cast aside as I became enraptured by this soft, thoughtful song, with its beautiful vocal harmonies and interesting, sparse percussion. The pace picks up once again for Not This Time, a swipe at the austerity policies that we’ve all had to endure, for a song that manages to merge folk sentiment with punk attitude in a way that even The Pogues never quite managed to achieve.
Driven along by a Hank Marvin-like guitar and a galloping rhythm, The Stanger is another excellent song, even though the lyrics hold a tinge of sadness, as they reflect on the futility of holding onto moral values in an environment that urges us to cast such things aside. A wonderfully folky fiddle introduces Gallows Song, a surging rocker that is, perhaps the most immediately impactful song on the album, before things are once again slowed down a touch for the melodic Blood and Thunder. Acoustic guitar and violin set the scene for a number that is both soothing and ominous, especially during the “Born to blood and thunder, sons of the storm we are” chorus.
The gentler mood continues with the wonderful Ghost, a song that builds as it progresses and which features some lovely soloing from Baz’s tenor guitar, and that considered mood continues into The City’s Heart, a lovely tune, built upon a simple, effective root/octave refrain from Baz. Scott’s fiddle fills in the gaps and, as the lyrics reach their climax, the tune develops an anthemic quality that is utterly stirring.
The joyful Coming Home expresses sentiments that will be familiar to anyone who has spent too much time away from the security and comfort of home. Perhaps the album’s lushest production, it’s an interesting song that regularly veers off the path you’d expect it to follow, and the jangly guitars and bass drum-beat add to the joyous message of the lyrics.
And, according to the album’s sleeve notes, that’s that – but we don’t get rid of Rusty Shackle that easily and, before it’s possible to draw breath, they’re back with the album’s bonus/hidden track, a lo-fi, impromptu rendition of Drink Won’t Drown Your Sorrow. It’s as loose and happy as Cream’s A Mother’s Lament, and it is, somehow a fitting way to round off an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable album.
Under A Bloodshot Moon is vital. Don’t miss it!
Watch the official video to The Devil’s Pulpit – the album’s opening track – here:
Rusty Shackle online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube
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Hey John, just one song into this album ‘The Devil’s Pulpit’ and I am a fan already. There is a familiarity to the vocals but can’t put my finger on it. What a great groove they have going on.
They have a great crossover appeal to a younger and older audience, similar to Mumford & Sons at their peak. Lively, energetic and packed with good tracks. Thanks John, great review and thanks for introducing me to this band.
Hi Kelvin – Thanks for reading the re and many thanks for your feedback. I’m really pleased that we’ve helped you to discover a new band – that’s what we’re here for!
I hope that you agreed with my belief that Rusty Shackle would be the perfect band for Cropredy. Let’s hope that Mr Pegg reads and agrees!