The Trials Of Cato – Gog Magog: Album Review

The Trials Of Cato continue to expand the folk roots. Electric guitars, keys and jazzy funk are the order of the day.

Label: Independent

Release Date: 25th November 2022

Format: CD / digital

trials of cato

For starters, Gog Magog has a wonderful cover. Small point but if you’re a visual person who likes order, then there’s a clear style emerging as visually, Gog Magog sits neatly alongside Hide And Hair. However, don’t be drawn into the judging the book by the cover debate, although the contents are just as striking and original.

It’s the album for which the phrase ‘long awaited’ was invented with an assortment of circumstances making it feel like a fresh start; a clean slate of sorts (appropriate given the North Wales connections) yet with lots of familiar tropes from the past.

Drawing on the folk tradition, historical myths and legends, folktronica and several nods to their two-thirds native Wales, the greatest shift is in the evidence of some funky jazz (or jazzy funk) and a fair share of swing running through Gog Maog’s veins. It may possibly be the result of what Yorkshire’s very own Polly Bolton has brought to the table. Taking stage centre for Ring Of Roses, what we often see as a children’s skipping/dancing rhyme with origins in the times of the Great Plague, morphs into a jazzy night club arrangement complete with a moody vocal. New, yes, but bearing the hallmarks of the percussive sound of organic wooden instruments.

That sound rears its head boldly from the off. The acoustic instruments, squeaky new strings in evidence such is the clarity of the recording, are accompanied by an injection of electronic percussion and in Paper Planes we have not a folk song, but a ‘song ‘played with ‘folk’ instruments. The storytelling develops with the ominous tale of the mythical creature, the Black Shuck, enhanced by a keyboard part and a brief duel between shrill mandolin and electric guitar. A sign of how far The Trials have come over their short career is that from their Beirut birth (there are still hints dotted around), Polly Bolton has helped them shapeshift into quite a soulful outfit. Like ‘Roses’, I Thought You Were My Friend would be just as at home in a smoky nightclub as a folk festival tent.

Moods might swing and sway but Aberdaron is a beautiful little lilting song that’s a perfect fit for the village (worth a visit to ‘get away’). The harmonies are delicious and there’s even a hint of a gentle jig just held by a soft pulse that briefly shifts up a gear at the end of the song.

Of course, you can’t tread the folk fields without a pocketfull of tunes. Gog Magog is a cool and chilled out workout – another which highlights The Trials’ groove and swing with Tomos sounding like his musical multi-taskery now adds bass to the armoury. The merging of cultures and origins in the tune sets sees the fingers and notes fly in Kerhonksen Stomp where again, the electronic percussion weaves a way, carefully controlled rather than wild abandon, winding through a passage where Tomos pops the plectrum in his mouth to get to the keys before a final lap. The chance to head back to the origins, see the trio strapping on their stringed instruments, picking, plucking and weaving on Dawns (not the period of the morning but Welsh for ‘dance’) and perhaps the pick of the tunes sets, Balls To The Wall. The latter heads into a bluesy, bluegrass direction – could be Polly on clawhammer banjo (or not) and a display of flair and dexterity, building up a fair head of steam and cod-drama/Arabic climax.

We know how The Trials like their history which comes in a hefty helping Boudicca AD60 where any expectancy of the sort of musical tour de force that might accompany the might of the Iceni warrior queen is quashed. Instead we get a lush and soulful telling of the “daughter of the heath and the heather.” And of course, the more obvious English folk heritage is mined in their take on Bedlam Boys, that might owe a debt to versions gone before, but remains a fresh, typically Trial, take.

So, in a lesson on the question of how to follow up a Folk Award winning album. More of the same..? If it ain’t broken why fix it..? Certainly not. With Gog Magog, The ‘new’ Trials Of Cato (wonder how long that will last) have been down to Satan’s kitchen and emerged a totally different proposition.

Here’s Ring Of Roses:

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