The Broken Family Band - Cold Water Songs
(Storm Records)

by Chris Marling

Reproducing live favourites is never easy, as album opener (I Don't Have the Time to) Mess Around, shows. Bands tend to cover the fact that recorded is the wrong medium for the song by adding bells and whistles, and here you have a succession of keyboard adds that are gaudy rather than glittering. That said, you can't hide the fact that it's a riotously silly hillbilly ho down, albeit in a very British, Benny Hill kind of way.

From the daft to the delicate, Twelve Eyes of Evil is BFB lyrics at their rambling, incoherent best while Devil in the Detail is a beautifully understated tale of lost love. These seemingly simplistic songs are beautifully constructed, with the gaping holes in the sound adding to the feeling of bare, stripped down honesty that permeates the album. There's country twangs and Spanish overtones, but overall they are simply great songs.

After these, Song Against Robots is a disappointment, and comes closest to sounding like a filler. Maybe its because it comes after two belters, but it just sounds unfinished - like it's the one they forgot to polish. Knut follows - a meandering instrumental that gives your brains a break from the lyrical onslaught. Trumpets, something sadly missing since the bands earlier incarnations, make a welcome return and help make this a jazzy, lounge-style interlude.

Gone Dark returns to the pace and theme of Devil in the Detail, showing the earlier track is no fluke. A beautiful, rolling lullaby with a sinister edge that underpins much of their writing. Nothing is ever simple in the world of BFB - there is always the hint of nasty consequences; of disaster lurking in every line.

Unless, of course they are just cutting loose and being childish. The Cajun feel of Don't Leave that Woman Unattended does what Mess Around fails to, being a cheeky slapstick romp that captures the freedom of the song. Back in the land of the incomprehensible lyric, The Mardi Gras Rescue Mission moves me, but I have no idea why. It leaves me with the feeling that there's a code here, as in Twelve Eyes, that stirs the emotions without giving the details.

As shameless rip offs go, At the Back of the Chapel is up there with the best of them (almost up to the standard of Hofman's Blutip-burgling Broken Arm Theory). It could slide comfortably onto any Herman Dune album, but is a fitting tribute to a fantastic band and an album highlight.

After Night in the Tractorbeam, another folksy tale of love in a skewed setting, You Were a Nightmare cranks itself up to all but end proceedings with an unspoken tribute to the band half of them left behind, Hofman. Noisy, nasty, funky, unpredictable. Ah, those were the days.

Hitting Women waves the album away, a miserable acoustic tale showing more signs of a seeming move away from the country sound that threatened, for a while, to define the band.
Overall, Cold Water Songs shows that the alt-country tag the Broken Family Band were shackled with early on is fast losing its relevance. While elements remain, and some of their songs are unashamedly country, what prevails more now is a freedom of expression that shows a band willing to use the sound that fits the song, and not the other way round as seems to be the case for most groups. A belting full-length debut.

In a Knut-shell (rant time)

This is an album that you should hear. You should play it more than once and you should listen to it when you are in the mood to listen to music. If you don't do this, you are not doing it, or yourself, justice.

I know that words like 'country' and 'folk' are uttered in the same sentence as the Broken Family Band, but so what? Metalicca cut an album with an orchestra and no one batted an eyelid. Nirvana, a band who rocked as much as any other ever has, proved how much there was to them with a blistering acoustic album that many consider their best. Few rock harder than Neil Young, and he is essentially a country artist.

Rock hates pigeonholes. NME are constantly lambasted for creating 'scenes', dance music scoffed at for inventing a genre a week and metal sniggered at for constantly repackaging what is essentially the same old crap in different trousers. That is, of course, until they hear one they are comfortable with (folk, country etc) - the sickening truth is that many 'rock' fans are some of the most blinkered morons out there.

There is no political angst here, no agenda. There is no dressing up, no pyrotechnics and very little posing (well, quite a bit actually). What there is are noisy bits, slow bits, rockin' bits and twangy bits. Silly bits, moving bits, thought provoking bits and bits about dogs balls. But, most importantly, there are a lot more good bits than bad bits.

Wake up, as they say, and smell the coffee. If you have ignored the Broken Family Band because of pathetic issues over labelling, do yourself justices and give them a listen. If you then think they're shit, fine, but at least give yourself the chance to make an honest opinion. If you can put down your prejudices for forty minutes, more power to your elbow.

For those about to twang, we salute you.