by Ian Simmons
[ cdreviews ]
With the rediscovery of Vashti Bunyan and the not entirely unconnected efforts of Devendra Banhart, Cocorosie et al, it's 1969 all over again. Freak folk is very much back in vogue (hell, even Goldfrapp are jumping on the bandwagon), but I am not sure anyone could possibly take it further than Thistletown. For most of the other partakers of the psychedelic folk vibe, while the force might be strong in them, you would never truly mistake what they do for the original product. This is virtually point perfect in its recreation, from the ground up, witting or not. Had someone told me Rosemarie was lost out-takes from the Sandy Denny-era Strawbs or suchlike, I'd have taken them at their word: the sleeve painting of a sailing boat surrounded by vaguely celtic swirls and cavorting fauna, is spot-on; the photo of slightly fey hairy blokes and two pre-Raphaelite girls doesn't jar; plus they actually all live together. On the boat. In Cornwall. Then when you put the CD on, you find appropriately primitive production values: everything is just slightly too dry. There's a bunch of ancient instruments, but a fairly rocky tune, and it's a paean to the boat on which they live together. With female harmony vocals.
How much more do you want?
OK, maybe it sounds like I am taking the piss, and perhaps I am, just a little, but it's still beautiful. Despite all the retro trappings, this is a startlingly pleasing piece of work of a kind you come across all too rarely. Most of the songs are self-penned and are refreshingly whimsical. They lack the self-referential knowing smirk that a lot of somewhat retro music suffers from. While 'Under the Trees' lifts its tune (unacknowledged) wholesale from the traditional 'Servant Girls Holiday', I must say I can find no trace of the Krautrock influence claimed in the press release. This is a most creditable debut effort, and although the Big Bertha label was a one-year journalistic project from Guardian writer Will Hodgkinson, I hope to see Thistletown go on to bigger and better things - just as long as no one tarts their sound up with plush production and gimmickry and turns them into another Clannad or something equally godawful. The slightly homespun feel suits the music down to the ground and is part of their gentle charm.