CD review

Kate Westbrook & The Granite Band – “Earth Felt the Wound”

Kate Westbrook & The Granite Band – Earth Felt the Wound
(Westbrook Records, WR006. CD review by Duncan Heining)

Is it really two years since Kate Westbrook’s last record Granite came out? Reviewing that record, I suggested that its music, lyrics and performance sat as easily within art or progressive rock as within jazz. But then the Westbrooks’ ability to cross boundaries has always been one of their greatest strengths.

Kate Westbrook album coverEarth Felt the Wound is a further such case in point. Even for long-standing fans, the breadth of their musical world and determination to explore new territory will continue to surprise and delight. Drawing from the pool of West Country-based musicians that form the Westbrooks’ Uncommon Orchestra, this is very much a band of sisters and brothers – a happy few, indeed. What you get here is a complete package. Every detail has been attended to and got just right.

From the bossa nova of the opening The Streams of Lovely Lucienne to the rock-blues of Bathing Belles and Fiscal Analysts and Drowned in the Flood, music and lyrics move across landscapes of concern and affiliations, lamenting the beauty of a natural world under threat. There is a novelistic quality to several of these songs. Lucienne seems to contrast the innocence of childhood with the growing uncertainties of adolescence in its protagonist, while Rooster Rabelais is an Aesop-like fable. Threat of Natural Disaster is repeated in a French translation with different music and succeeds in linking the Westbrooks’ enthusiasms for fine art (Kate is a remarkably gifted painter), Rossini, landscape and the natural world. Its setting of Altdorf connects Rossini – the village built a theatre for a performance of his opera, William Tell – and J.M.W. Turner, who painted Storm in the St. Gotthard Pass and Little Devil’s Bridge nearby.

But the way the music is structured here is also intriguing. The sound is often quite compressed. The twin guitars of Matthew North and Jesse Molins form a middle strata, with the rhythm section of Mike Westbrook on keys, Billie Bottle on bass guitar and piano and Coach York on drums forming the bedrock, leaving the voice of Kate and saxophone of Roz Harding to tell the story of sediment and the passage of time. This is no more evident than on the three tracks that form a kind of triptych towards the record’s end.

First up is an apocalyptic Let’s Face the Music and Dance, its emphasis definitely on “trouble ahead” and with some excellent, doom-laden drums from York. Storm Petrel follows. Perhaps the finest track on a fine album, its music swells and swirls over driving rhythms from York and Bottle, with Harding offering a fittingly avian soprano solo. Finally, Rossini’s Once Upon a Time with just Kate’s voice and Billie Bottle on piano offers a sense of closure, as its subject rejects pomp and beauty in favour of innocence and virtue. In a way, the song harks back to the opening The Streams of Lovely Lucienne – innocence is restored.

Rooster Rabelais closes the album with darkly anthropomorphic good humour and a healthy dose of the blues, with Harding’s soprano again taking an ornithological turn. A fitting ending to this rainbow of music and words. Beautifully produced, performed and packaged, Earth Felt the Wound, if anything, improves upon its excellent predecessor.

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