Big Oak Road –  River Drivers (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

In a world where music seems to be ever more reliant on the tricks and gimmickry afforded by technology – effects pedals, samples, the dreaded auto-tune and other sonic manipulations – it is great to stumble across bands like River Drivers. Not that they make music with any sort of Luddite deliberations, it’s just that they make music of the sort which would sound pretty much the same unplugged in the corner of a pub or around a campfire. Not only that, they thread their songs with the sort of anthemic qualities that makes the listener feel the urge to charge the barricades, or failing that the bar. Rabble rousing music but done so with finesse and grace, the stuff of revolution perhaps but a quiet, polite revolution at that.

Their wonderful narratives, stories of workers rights and struggling farmers, the small folk just trying to get by in the face of adversity, not to mention the mill  bosses and the landowners, link them to a host of bands throughout the ages. From the balladeers of old through to the likes of The Men They Couldn’t Hang and The Levellers, The Pogues and Billy Bragg and onwards to more recent musical agitators such as Ferocious Dog. Sorry if all my reference points are all from my own side of the water but if you told me that the band were from a small, ex-mining town in Derbyshire I wouldn’t have questioned it for a second!

The album kicks off with the two songs which have already been sent out into the world to test the water, Children’s March the perfect opening salvo jumping straight in to the fray with one fist in the air the other swinging a punch, at least musically speaking, and Going Once a more melodic yet no less poignant tale of being beaten by the system. Cumann na mBan revels in the tribal beats and brooding tones of the Celtic fringes from where it draws inspiration and more specifically the role women in the fight for Irish Independence and Moonshiner blends Old World folk charm with New World mountain music into a skittering jig dedicated to the demon drink.

River Drivers make music that has thread through my life for years starting, with the Cropdusters take on punky bluegrass in my formative musical years, right up to The Two Man Travelling Medicine Show‘s recent cross-Atlantic blends but unless you have ever hung out in small venues in the rural south of the UK (and if not, you should) such names drop with barely a sound. But it’s nice to know that people are making such great music on both sides of the Atlantic.

pre-order Big Oak Road 

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