Debut album from west-country country-westerners, Concrete Prairie.
Release Date: 2nd September 2022
Label: Good Deeds Music
Unless you’re fortunate enough to live in England’s west country, it’s unlikely that you’ll have come across Concrete Prairie before. But, if you live in, say, Bath, Salisbury, Swindon or Bristol then the odds are that, not only will you be familiar with them from their regular live performances but that you’ll be one of the band’s growing bunch of followers who are eagerly awaiting the appearance of their debut album. Well – for those of you in that ever-expanding group, I’ve got good news – your wait is over. The debut Concrete Prairie album is here.
Hailing from the beautiful city of Bath, Concrete Prairie are: Joe Faulkner (guitar, harmonica and lead vocals), Adam Greeves (mandolin, harmonica and vocals), Dan Burrows (bass, banjo and vocals), Georgia Brown (fiddle) and Tom Hartley (drums). On their debut album, the band is also helped out by Chris Pemberton on keyboards. Their sound has been described as a blend of UK country, folk, blues and Americana and that’s a description that just about nails it. And, if you’re wondering about the band’s name, well – it’s a pretty shrewd analogy of what they’re trying to put across – “English, with a touch of Americana; the brutalism of a city, combined with the image of a prairie.”
And certainly, the tunes on this debut album reflect that UK/Southern US juxtaposition. There are country ballads, bouncy country shuffles, bluesy reflections and even flashes of bluegrass to enjoy and lead vocalist Joe delivers the lyrics in a voice that falls somewhere between Elvis (P, not C) and Waylon Jennings – so far, so American… but the lyrical subject matter deals with predominantly English themes, most obviously in Winter Town, a gem of a song that deals with the desolation of life in a British seaside town, after the holidaymakers have gone home to their gas fires and electric blankets.
Current single, Picking Up Pieces gets the show on the road and pretty well sets the scene for the rest of the album. It’s a pleasant tune, with some nice fiddle from Georgia but it’s in the lyrics that you’ll find the real soul of the song. The subject is fatherhood and, in particular, Joe’s daughter and the relationship he has with her – as Joe explains: “[It’s about] how much I treasure her, how shit life can be, and the fact that I’ll always be there for her.” The lyrics are full of challenges and contradictions, but the ultimately reassuring message that Joe gives his daughter is “Oh you know, yeh you do, when the shit hits the fan, I’ll be the man that’s a-pickin’ up pieces.”
The confrontation of mental health issues is the subject of Bury My Blues, a song that grows into a bouncy, catchy and addictive country tune that, I’d imagine is a live favourite. Georgia contributes a few more tasty fiddle licks and the band reveal the synonymous Concrete Prairie as a possible location in which the blues can be buried, once they’ve been vanquished. On a more intimate level, Hard Times addresses the difficulties we’re currently facing in this country of ours, and the refrain – “Hard times a-comin’, there’s trouble up ahead” might be referring to any number of issues from the rising cost of existence to the impossibility of securing medical assistance, and more. The song blends a Celtic traditional feel with that of a frontiersman’s ballad – I detected strains of Fairport’s Matty Groves and The Year of ’49 amongst the mix – and the solos from violin and electric guitar just add to the fun.
Whilst the lyrics to Day To Day were inspired by the tragic death of a young friend of both Joe and Dan, the tune is bluesy rag that’s jaunty, relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable, with banjo and fiddle well to the fore. It’s one of my favourite tracks on the album and my only disappointment is that the vocal harmonies sounded just a little too timid – perhaps they would have benefitted from being higher in the mix. Country ballad, I Wish You Well, is a song of parting and loss with a wonderful shuffling drum rhythm and some nice harmonica, and it’s the drum rhythm that also stands out in the slow, slightly eerie, Time to Kill, a song loaded with chilling electric guitar lines as it works its way to its “I’m a devil’s disciple now!” climax.
The horrors of alcohol addiction are confronted in Wine on My Mind. Lines like: “Sure as mountains stand tall and rivers they roll, my thinking ‘bout drinking is beyond my control. I shake when I wake like a dog in the rain, I’ve wine on my mind where my children once played” are apparently inspired by the tribulations suffered by Joe’s mother. The tune is suitably dramatic with the various perils of alcohol abuse emphasized by thuds and crashes and the dizzying swirls of fiddle in the instrumental sections adding to the booze-fueled confusion. Wine on My Mind is probably the most insightful song on this particular subject since Christy Moore’s The Deportee’s Club.
I’d expect that the bluegrass-tinted People Forget is another live crowd-pleaser, with its shuffling drums and interwoven fiddle and banjo, but I have to admit that my attention was particularly drawn to the magnificent Winter Song, that story of desolation in an out-of-season holiday resort that Joe delivers with great passion and sincerity and, to which, wonderful solos on electric guitar and fiddle add to the general weepiness.
The relative fortunes that people enjoy or endure, depending upon the circumstances of their birth provide the theme for The Devil Dealt the Deck, the album’s epic closing track. Of course, the postcode lottery isn’t a phenomenon unique to the UK, but I guess that it’s UK examples that feed the lyrics in this case. There are several passages to the song that are, alternately, gentle, dramatic and soothing, and acoustic guitar, electric guitar and violin all enjoy moments in the spotlight. The Devil Dealt the Deck is certainly a bold, adventurous way in which to close out a striking debut album, and, I’m pleased to say, Concrete Prairie pulled it off with flying colours.
Listen to Day by Day, a track from the album, here: