Review: Oysterband – Diamonds On The Water

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Since the mid-seventies, Oysterband have been plying their trade with a number of changes in their line-up and in their style of music, but folk has always been at the heart of the band.

Back from touring their successful album Ragged Kingdom, which was the band’s reunion project with folk legend June Tabor, Oysterband have returned with their first collection of original songs in seven years. These are also the first batch of new recordings since Ray “Chopper” Cooper left the band to embark on a solo career.  The band’s producer, Al Scott stepped in on bass and mandolin to fill the shoes of Cooper but there are also many guest appearances such as: Rowan Godel (vocals), Lindsey Oliver (double bass), Pete Davison (trumpet), Eira Owen (French horn) and Sarah Leeves (euphonium). Ex-Drummer Lee Partis even contributed vocals harmonies to some tracks. Also there to add his touch to the album was Adrian Oxaal (former James guitarist and cellist) who will join the band on their future tour.

Singer John Jones has talked about the effect that touring has had on Oysterband’s creative process. He says, “… our sound has become simpler and punchier, as it was in the early days. Over a summer of great festivals, including Glastonbury, we stripped the sound down and went for it, with Al and Ian singing more to support guitarist Alan Prosser’s backing vocals. We all had to dig deep to make something new. And it has had a great reaction”. This album certainly comes across as a collaborative effort with the sound of a band that bonds well together.

The songs are richly produced with smooth harmonies backing the wonderfully expressive voice of John Jones. Diamonds On The Water starts with  A Clown’s Heart, an upbeat track, which immediately shows the vocal prowess of both members and guests on this album. The chorus line ‘We’ll bring back the sun’ is a bit of a cliché but nevertheless; this uplifting song does what it sets out to do.

This mood continues in A River Runs Through, an extremely catchy and lively song but with a sense of restlessness. Perhaps this is what has kept the band going all these years. Lay Your Dreams Down Gently is a rather touching ballad with John and Rowen Godel’s voices blending together seamlessly at times. The title track is again another upbeat track with the message that hope can be found in even the direst circumstances. That’s not to say all the songs are optimistic. The Palace Of Memory and a ‘male’ version of the traditional song Once I Had a Sweetheart are darker with loneliness and pain prominent in the lyrics and the atmosphere. The album finishes with a folky flourish with Like A Swimmer In The Ocean. Here Jones sings ‘I’ll leave these songs with you’ and that’s exactly what he does.

If you are a lover of harmonies and well-crafted songs, Oysterband’s latest offering is sure to satisfy.

Phil Soanes