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