Fricke's Picks: Trembling Bells, The New Sound of Olde England


History keeps repeating itself on Carbeth (Honest Jon's), the intoxicating debut album by Trembling Bells. The English-Scottish quartet essentially revive an earlier revival: the rediscovery and amplification, in the Sixties and early Seventies, of traditional British balladry and country-dance tunes. In pub-hymn melodies like "Seven Years a Teardrop" and the hearth-choir blend of ale-fed male hurrah and Lavinia Blackwall's righteous-damsel singing, the band — founded by avant-rock drummer Alex Neilson (he has played with Current 93 and Six Organs of Admittance, among others) — abides by the ruling echoes of Fairport Convention and Pentangle. The Bells also take a wide view of that antiquity, incorporating Renaissance brass music, medieval drone and acid-flecked rock. Jubilant mischief ensues in "The End Is the Beginning Born Knowing" (the Incredible String Band as an incredible garage band) and the steam-engine-Led Zeppelin freakout in the center of "I Took to You (Like Christ to Wood)." There is robust beauty, too. "Garlands of Stars" is a rattling bouquet of shooting-star guitars, lusty trombone and Blackwall's arcing voice, driven by Neilson's tidal drumming. The folk roots still show, but in fresh air.

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David Fricke

Rolling Stone senior writer David Fricke has more than 10,000 albums in his New York apartment. His first record review for the magazine was Frank Zappa's 'Sheik Yerbouti' (RS 290).

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