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Holy Moly And The Crackers – 'Salem' Album Review


1. Salem

2. Cold Comfort Lane

3. Hallelujah Amen

4. Mary

5. Sugar

6. The Wall

7. Easy As Sunrise

8. The Woman From Spain

9. Let Go

10. Yours To Keep

I hope you are sitting comfortably as this is going to be a long one. It needs to be to do this album justice. I have had to buy a thesaurus as I was running out of superlatives for this cauldron of dark potions that grab you by the hand and pull you into a theatrical world of bombastic folk. A world that you will not want to escape from but immerse yourself in.

Holy Moly And The Crackers hail from Newcastle and have spent a lot of time honing their sound. A sound that is as uniquely their own, as it is diverse. The sound is a created by the sum of the parts, as there are no passengers in the band. The band comprise Conrad Bird (Vocals, Guitar and Trumpet), Ruth Lyon (Vocals and Fiddle), Rosie Bristow (Accordion), Nick Taylor (Electric Guitar), Jamie Shields (Bass) and Tommy Evans (Drums). This mix of musicians create an intoxicating blend of Gypsy Folk and Rock, or to put it another way, folk with balls.

So onto the album, Which has no stand out tracks as they are all stand out tracks. However it would be difficult to envisage such a good opener as ‘Salem’, the title track and third single to be released. 'Salem' starts with a delicious intro featuring the accordion and fiddle. Ruth’s vocals are pure, clear and melodic. The chorus has a catchy hook and Jamies’s single bass note after each ‘Salem’ lets you know that you are in for something different and very good.

‘Cold Comfort Lane’ is the track most likely to be recognised as it has had a lot of airplay, and was the first single from the album. It starts with a more Indie Rock vibe with electric guitar and drums. There is a catchy guitar riff that goes throughout the song. Ruth delivers a strong vocal, again with the lines punctuating the music. This is a song about a pretty hectic night out, it builds to a barnstorming conclusion. Guitars are screaming, the snare and top hats are being thrashed and the Conrad, picks up his trumpet. I love a trumpet in contemporary music, and one of my favourite is the trumpet climax in the Waterboys’ 'Don’t Bang The Drum'. I think Conrad’s trumpet playing on this track tops that.

Ok so two tracks in, I am hooked, where is this album going to go next? Rosie’s accordion kicks ‘Hallelujah Amen’ off. Then the drums and guitar join in, their fuzziness in distinct contrast to the clarity of the accordion. Nick’s snatchy chord playing is almost Reggae or Ska like. Then we hear Conrad sing for the first time. In contrast to Ruths clear pure vocal his is mischievous and gravely. A song based in New Orleans the lyrics tell the story and the lyrics are sublime. ‘Eating all the gumbo in the bayou baby, eating, I’ve been eating all day’. ‘Drinking all the whiskey in New Orleans. I’ve be drinking all day’. ‘All day’ delivered with a slur and chuckle. Ruth sings the chorus and the contrast between their voices is obvious and complimentary. She adds light to the dark. The musicianship is stunning throughout the song, and it concludes almost like a choir piece.

'Mary', the second single from the album, starts with a wall of sound with the Trumpet driving it. Conrad’s lyric is a Folk Rap. Again Ruth delivers a sung chorus. This is a contrast of vocal styles as well as vocal sounds. The fiddle and trumpet are present throughout out the song. At the end Ruth takes over on vocals, with Tommy’s non waivering drum beat behind her. It ends with Ruth chanting ‘Mary’, At the end you may have cramp from the foot tapping this track induces.

‘Sugar’ is a very theatrical song that’s starts with a fuzzy guitar and pounding drums. Conrad is back on vocals, sounding like a demonic Tom Waits. ‘I get down when the Sugar Man ain’t around and I get blue, when the Sugarman don’t’ come through. But I get high when the Sugarman comes on by’, I assume by the delivery and the hectic nature of this song, that it is not a tribute to Bertie Bassett.

True to the contrasting light and shade on this album, ‘The Wall’, starts with a gentle chant. Ruth is back on the vocals, with a melodic track full of melancholy. As before the whole band is tight and the keyboards and accordion provide the backdrop for Ruth’s beautiful vocal delivery. Nick is able to show off his talents with a guitar solo. ‘The Wall’ offers a calm respite from some of the previous tracks and is well placed within the track listing.

A severe fiddle starts this like the famous strings in Pycho. ‘Easy As Sunrise’, after the calm comes the storm and Conrad is back on lead vocal, with Ruth providing a powerful accompaniment, initially with the chorus. Again the lyrics are very descriptive and clever ‘He hit like a gunshot, a heart full of lead buck’. This is a bombastic track. It slows down when Ruth takes over the lead vocal again at the end of the track. Another catchy foot tapper which will be in your head a long time after it finishes.

‘The Woman From Spain’ starts with an Indie hook, complete with a fret sliding chord. The percussion adds a Spanish ambiance with Tommy hitting the blocks to give the feel of castanets throughout. Ruth delivers very descriptive vocals, that allow you to picture said Spanish lady. ‘She had a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, red ruby lipstick, a black leather hat. She’s got bright blue eyes, got me down to my soul, my hearts beats quick, my bloods running cold’. You get the picture, well if you don’t then you are devoid of imagination! Tommy gets his chance to show off further with a drum solo, which is joined with flamenco trumpet, giving the full carnival experience.

The blocks are used in ‘Let Go’. This, was the fourth single from the album, and is a Rock number with Rock guitar riffs. Band members join the track throughout with Rosie coming in on the accordion as the track builds. The accordion takes centre stage, having previously added the melody, Then the fiddle follows. Again the band show how in tune they are with each other. Ruth provides a vocal as sweet and clear as a bell.

In the final track, again the blocks are in full use. ‘Yours To Keep’ is a Jazz Folky number, full of melody and atmosphere. Like every track on the album it is completely different from all the other numbers. ‘Yours to Keep’ has a lot of instrumentation and the fiddle playing again is really good. The Brass at the end provides yet more contrast.

I cannot understate what a fantastic, original and unique album this is. Holy Moly And The Crackers are all talented musicians. Between them they have produced, not only an album of great diverse numbers but an immersive experience. A glimpse into a sometimes chaotic and dark world, but a world with energy, power and a few laughs along the way. They have taken their time, got the right mix and generated the right material for people to sit up and take notice of 'Salem'.

If you listen to this album and fail to tap your foot at any stage, check your pulse, you may have died without realising it. Holy Moly And The Crackers’ 'Salem' is a bombastic riotous album, every track a killer in it’s own right. If they deliver that energy and musicianship live then it will be a gig you tell your grandchildren about. If you only buy one album this year, make sure it’s 'Salem'. Five stars does not seem enough but sorry Ruth, Conrad et al. My hands are tied!

Review - Tony Creek

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