Elephant Sessions – All We Have Is Now

Album Review | Elephant Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Elephant Sessions describe themselves as a neo-trad band. But by the end of this album you are left feeling that they have transcending traditional traditions and are very much whirling off into their own instrumental world. Against a rock solid back line musical rules are bent and rewritten in a way that is strikingly fresh and exciting, as John Martyn, himself not a stranger to mixing it up, said on The Road To Ruin in 1970 ‘The needle is new and the patterns are old’ and there is very much a sense of that through this album. Not that Elephant Sessions are being different for differences sake rather that they follow the music where it takes them and are never constrained by genres or traditions. So “Wet Field Day” opens with a very new wave guitar riff that is soon shadowed by a very quick fingered mandolin part. Whatever the genre, this is dance music that slithers and shimmies keeping your feet tapping, but there is an intelligence to the playing and a feeling that someone is calling the changes to stop it ever getting stuck in a straight-ahead groove. “Lament For Lost Dignity” is one of the most strikingly surprising tracks on the album, from its opening chopping guitar and mandolin exchange to the slightly ‘dubby’ middle section. The fiddle and mandolin melody is just lovely, while the interesting rhythms put a smile on your face. Just brilliant. “Misty Badger” has the feel of one of those knotty folk jazz tunes that Bela Fleck used to delight in, dance music that paradoxically sounds quite tricky to move to. Fiddle and Accordian just fly. “Dirty”, another album highlight, brings that dirty Jethro Tull metal guitar riff to the folk-rock party. The fiddle carries the tune while strings, vocal ambience and guitar squalls layer fascinating textures. “Summer” places a very contemporary finger snap and keyboard part against a Crooked Still mandolin riff. I want to say bluegrass Coldplay, but, on the page, that sounds as appealing as a porridge cocktail mixed with red bull. Textures weave through the song, while the mandolin and fiddles spiral on together, it all sounds amazing. “Tingles” with its richly retro keyboards and ethnic sounding strings has a touch of the Afro Celt Sound System or the Malian Kora about it. This is going to sound incredible, wafting across a festival field and will drag people to their feet regardless of whatever tradition they think they are dancing within. The syncopation of the strings build, the electronics rise, the groove is infectious and as a description “Tingles” rather underplays the shamanic feel of the track. “Frans” is an atmospheric, almost cinematic contrast to the previous track. A rich fiddle part fills the air over a huge drum pattern. The mandolin shadows the fiddle in that, four hands, two instruments, one melody way that Elephant Sessions do so well and you are gone, lost in the thick of it. An organ like keyboard part just adds to the ‘hairs on the back of the neck –ness’ of the whole track. Beautiful come down music that I could happily listen to all night. Just when you think you have it all figured out “I Used To Be A Nice Boy” places a dirty early 70s funk line behind a bluegrass like melody. Melody is melody, but the range of contexts and musical genres thrown into the mix on this captivating album hold your attention to the music every second of the way. Final track “Doofer” after some outrageous feedback, layers the Martin Barre metal guitar against a driving techo rhythm, imagine Metallica sparring with a beautiful electric fiddle part. Outrageous, breathtaking music that will stop you and demand your attention. Play it loud and play it again and again until you are completely folked.