Turn on any news channel and you might be forgiven for believing that the world is an ever more divided and divisive place, one whose denizens see our differences as a cause for alienation rather than celebration, a world focused on fracture rather than unity. But if you listen to any piece of music, you can pretty much guarantee that it is the product of completely the opposite attitude. Music, well any music worthy of your time anyway, is the story of unity, cultural osmosis, sonic swapsies, of plundering for all the right reasons, of meeting and embracing, of reaching beyond your comfort zones, of being willing to be influenced by the exotic, unusual and far off. Being your own person is fine but it will only get you so far, being part of a gang of geographically far flung creatives, musical misfits and sonic genre-splicers is much more fun.
And if such a collection of people seems too good to be true, the stuff of fiction or of an earlier time then you are very much mistaken because as well as the expected Brits in the mix, The Penny Black Remedy also boasts a Croatian vocalist, a Polish violinist and a guitarist from the opposite shore of The Atlantic. Add the fact that this album flitted through various European studios during its creation and you pretty much have a musical creation story that flies in the face of the current climate.
And, as you might expect, this wonderfully named album, is a smorgasbord of musical flavours. For every Old World gypsy vibe and folk tradition there is a New World country lilt or bluesy groove, for every modern pop melody there is a timeless rootsy hook. The songs are both solidly wrought and soulfully delivered and of such a standard that if you were new to their music, as I must confess that I am, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had stumbled across a career retrospective or best of compilation.
The album oozes with nostalgic sounds but brilliantly side steps any pastiche or plagiarism, instead offering slightly off-kilter takes on music which you are pretty sure you have heard before but can’t quite place. Signs of Weakness is a rockabilly romp interspersed with Balkan violins, You Should Have Left Your Money at Home is a musical theatre sing-a-long rendered into baroque pop and It’s Dark Outside is country duet…I’m just not sure which country!
In short it is music made with no limits, geographically or generically and exists in the present only because it has one foot in the past and the other in the future. Maybe if we spent less time trying to decide what music should be and how it is made and just let it all naturally fuse together ignoring rules and tradition, fashion and fad we would end up with more albums like this. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?