Chumbawamba

Singsong and a Scrap

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While it's a slimmed-down (four person) and definitely acoustic Chumbawamba releasing their disc on a U.K. folk label (No Masters) with some decidedly folkie guests like melodeon player Andy Cutting and singers Coope, Boyes & Simpson, don't think of this as a folk record. Chumbawamba's pop sensibilities and sly sense of humor remain firmly intact for Singsong and a Scrap, just in a different setting. They're as political as ever -- the vocal beauty of "Walking into Battle with the Lord" uses traditional structures to take aim at war in the name of religion, and "The Land of Do What You're Told" fires its shots across the bows of reality shows, for example. But there's an odd tenderness to "When Alexander Met Emma," the story of revolutionary Emma Goldman's great love, and "William Francis," about a friendless aristocrat and landowner. "Learning to Love" stands the old idea of the maid waiting for her man to return from war on its head, and "Bella Ciao" offers new, very relevant words to a traditional Italian song. Yet there's also a glorious cover of the Clash's "Bankrobber" here, the voices soaring on the works and strengthening the notions of poverty and idealism. The band have improved greatly as singers, as the a cappella numbers illustrate well, giving full-throated roars to the lyrics. Never known in the past for their instrumental subtlety, this incarnation of the band actually understates rather than bludgeons, and persuasion works better than force on these songs. Intelligent as ever, and with eyes not jaundiced by fame, the cottage industry Chumbawamba works well indeed.

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