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Frank Turner - 'Songbook' Album Review


CD 1:

1. Four Simple Words

2. I Still Believe

3. The Next Storm

4. Recovery

5. The Road

6. Long Live The Queen

7. Glorious You

8. Plain Sailing Weather

9. I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous

10. Wessex Boy

11. The Opening Act Of Spring

12. Polaroid Picture

13. Mittens

14. If Ever I Stray

15. The Way I Tend To Be

16. The Ballad Of Me And My Friends

17. Photosynthesis

18. Get Better

19. There She Is

CD 2:

1. Polaroid Picture (Songbook Version)

2. The Ballad Of Me And My Friends (Songbook Version)

3. Broken Piano (Songbook Version)

4. Josephine (Songbook Version)

5. Love 40 Down (Songbook Version)

6. The Way I Tend To Be (Songbook Version)

7. Glorious You (Songbook Version)

8. I Am Disappeared (Songbook Version)

9. Long Live The Queen (Songbook Version)

10. Photosynthesis (Songbook version)

Record companies normally have a field day coming up to Christmas. It's that time of year where they decide to milk their artist's following by releasing the dreaded 'Greatest Hits' compilations, often sweetening the deal by adding some studio out-take as a way of enticing the public into parting with their hard earned cash.

But what happens an artist with integrity decides to mess with the tried and tested formula?

This year Frank Turner has decided to release a compilation album of his back catalogue. He's built up quite the back catalogue over his career, with six studio albums and over two thousand shows to his name, and that doesn't include eps, compilations, guest appearances and side projects. He has a great talent for making every song feel personal to you, that they could be written about your life, which is part of the reason he has amassed an army of fans behind him. That and the fact that he remains easily contactable to his audience, often replying to emails himself directly.

Frank has been open by telling us that he sees this as marking the end of this version of him, that his album of new material due next year might see him travel along some different musical roads. "Songbook" is Frank looking backwards over his work, evaluating what he's done before as well as looking forward to what his future might become. Rather than just a 'Greatest Hits' collection, it's more the artist choosing pivotal songs of his that have shaped his life. Of his selection on offer there's nineteen studio tracks, one of which will be on his next album due next year, and ten reworked songs, four of them not appearing in their original form on the first part of the album. It also shows the truth that sometimes songs change and evolve once they get out into the real world.

If you're wondering where to start with Frank, this is the perfect place. His career is well represented here, giving you the perfect overview of who and what he is as an artist. He's outspoken, but not just politically. You'll find that he'll stand up for just as many social causes, if not more. He takes influences from songwriters like Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle, and makes them his own by adding a bit of Punk to the mix. I'm not really going to go through the eighteen tracks that make up the main body of the album. Turner and his band the Sleeping Souls perform with passion, with a lot of emotion forming the backbone. They will lift you up and raise your spirits (especially with the likes of 'Four Simple Words', 'I Still Believe' and 'Get Better'), and there are times where they'll make you look deep inside your soul ('Long Live The Queen', 'Glorious You', 'Polaroid Picture' and 'Mittens').

Let's look instead at the newer songs appearing here.

'There She Is' is the previously mentioned song that will appear on his next album and if this is an example of it, it's going to be great. It feels like he's taken the essence of a Springsteen classic and distilled it into three and a bit minutes of perfection and subtlety, a gentle Turner insisting that "I need my girl".

The bonus tracks are a collection of older songs that have been re-recorded especially for this compilation. 'Photosynthesis' sounds the closest to it's previous version but stripped back. 'The Way I Tend To Be' is broken down to an almost mournful quality, relying on piano and acoustic guitar. A similar take on 'Glorious You' renders it down to a core that strikes you straight in the heart. It doesn't diminish anything from the original but instead adds another quality to the song.

'Josephine' in it's "Songbook" arrangement sounds like it would fit perfectly on Springsteen's "Nebraska" album. It would be really interesting to see what Turner could produce if he went down this bare type of song arrangement. Here, it sends chills down your spine, allowing the raw emotion of the song to do it's work without hindrance.

'Polaroid Picture' sounds completely different to the original. Again I love the way these songs take on different forms and meanings when Frank has chance to explore them, getting to the core of the song. This is not a disservice to the originals, it gives them a new life and role.

I'll admit, I didn't particularly like 'Love Forty Down' when it was on Turner's last album "Positive Songs For Negative People", it just never sat comfortably with me. Here though, the arrangement works much better, not feeling as rushed as the original version did to me.

'I Am Disappeared' starts of with a haunting vocal harmony before dropping into a more traditional sounding chorus. By the final verse it builds layers of instrumentation on itself to sound more like the original version of the song.

'Broken Piano' from the album "Tape Deck Heart" has been one of my favourites by him for a while. Here it loses some of it's haunting, epic power but instead hangs the words on a nice picked guitar line that loops it's way through the song. An electric guitar kicks in, threatening to drown the song in feedback but it just manages to restrain itself.

'Long Live The Queen" has gained and extra bit of power in this version, more Punk guitar and crunch helping to propel the song onwards so, when it drops down for the final verse, it helps invest the song with more emotional power that completely catches you off guard that chokes you up.

Closer 'The Ballad Of Me & My Friends' drops down several gears to just voice and piano, again adding a different emotional quality to the song as you feel you as you're approaching it in a different way to the original.

So, twenty nine songs for a tenner plus postage (if you order directly from his website) is certainly value for money. Having a collection like "Songbook" to hand where most of your favourites are all in one place is a great thing, especially if you're wanting to spread the word of one of the UK's best songwriters. The reworked tracks are a wonderful bonus that allows you to look at some of them in a completely different light, which makes "Songbook" an essential purchase for any Frank Turner fan.

Review - Scott Hamilton

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