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Record review: Tom Rose & The Heathen Orchestra

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Orchestral arranger. Bookseller. Gravedigger. As careers go that’s not a bad palette of experience from which to paint your tales of humankind. And Tom Rose has done them all. As leader of this Northamptonshire five-piece twisted blues ensemble he’s learnt to weave a consistently absorbing narrative on the freaks and weirdos that walk amongst us.

This twelve-tracker was recorded live last October at Parlour Studios near Kettering, and displays some Hammond-heavy dark forbodings that bring to mind some of the greats of the nu-blues genre: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Tom Waits, Mark Lanegan, Captain Beefheart, The Pogues, with various nods to the original US bluesmen of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The opening track ‘Keep Your Demons’ is the heaviest thing on here, and is reminiscent of noughties blues trio the 22-20s; and before them, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. It feels like the sky will cave in over it’s three minute duration, which is probably the point. ‘Dance To Hell’ keeps the sweaty intensity up, coming across like a potent rockabilly version of ‘Red Right Hand’. It’s on this song that Roses’ preacher sensibilities come to the fore, with references to ‘demons’ and ‘hell’; the morality theme is later returned to on ‘Bible Morals’. If you’re going to tell stories you might as well make them biblical in scale…

On ‘Clay On Wood’ the voodoo punk spirit that has inhabited Jim Jones for thirty-odd years – most recently with his Righteous Mind – comes to mind. The band is really smoking on this number, cutting loose with joyous abandon. ‘Maggots’ slows things down a bit, bringing some smooth 60s atmospherics to rival Dylan with The Hawks, or perhaps The Doors. The grotesque nature of the song that Rose is chronicling is one to listen in sharply for, you get your just rewards. The album continues in a similar vein over its second half: ‘Falling Over’ and ‘All Of You People’ add some nifty guitar licks to enliven, ‘Garden Designs’ decides to add profanity to the spicy mix, and there’s some excellent garage-punk dynamics on ‘Trouble’s What You Got’.

This record is a spirited success and one you can’t ignore, for it has you by the throat from those opening notes. It has a timeless quality too – it could conceivably be ignored in 2018, only to be hailed as a minor classic by future scribes. One thing is for sure, however; we are much better off having it in our lives than not. Praise be.

Phil Moore

Tom Rose & The Heathen Orchestra is out now

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