The Big Eyes Family Players - Do The Musiking

"The album mixes Eastern European and Klezmer traditions with that of British folk music (in the wider sense of the word folk) and modern composition. "

The Big Eyes Family Players - Do The Musiking


 


The Big Eyes Family Players are a Sheffield-based group that in recent years have taken a collaborative approach to music-making. And it must be said that the Family Players on their new album have quite a pedigree - James Yorkston, Jeremy Barnes (A Hawk and a Hacksaw) and Rachel Grimes (Rachel's) all pop up on Do the Musiking. Whilst is true that one can discern the Celtic pastoralism of Yorkston, the Eastern European strains of Barnes' recent work and the slightly glacial chamber music of Rachel's on the album, it would also be a mistake to view the album through the influence of their contributions. These are musicians who share the musical tastes and interests of the core Big Eyes players – Do the Musiking is a meeting of kindred spirits and should be understood as such.


 


What you do undoubtedly get is a CD chock-full of music. There are 29 tracks on Do The Musiking and a run down of the instruments played on the album should give you a quick idea of how the album sounds - piano, cello, harmonium, melodica, banjo, viola, guitar, clarinet and harp. A few of the tracks feature singing but by and large the album is made up of stately instrumentals, mostly melancholy in tenor. The album opens with Golden, which sets the tone with its sombre piano and flickering acoustic guitar. Mr Laurel's Lapse features banjo and Eastern European violin sounds that scrape and grind. Almost woozy and drunken, it is the soundtrack to an old man with a big moustache stumbling down a back street in Budapest. After a quick dance with a startled young lady he continues on his drunken way. Absolute Endings is less successful, featuring as it does a rather vapid vocal and an intrusive electric guitar. Owlet Moth features violins similar in style to Mr Laurel's Lapse but is backed instead by what sounds like a tap dancer in a distant room. Doreen features just a solo guitar and is simple yet affecting. Elsewhere Bear and Butterfly employs a jaunty banjo, gently clinking percussion and could have been upbeat were it not for the violin. It also contains one of the stronger melodies contained on the album and I would have preferred the track to have been stretched out beyond the standard two and a half minutes. Shanty for Darty does what it says on the tin and A Dream of Fires starts with rare force before emerges into a drone surrounded by abstract washes of sound and occasional trickles of strings.


 


You get the idea. As well as the work of the artists participating you could also say that there are moments that resemble the work of Matt Elliot and Directorsound. The album mixes Eastern European and Klezmer traditions with that of British folk music (in the wider sense of the word folk) and modern composition. There are jazzy moments and country moments too. The album is frequently engaging and only of a few of the tracks feel like sketches rather than fully formed songs. If there is a fault, and I think that there is, then it lies with the form of the songs on Do The Musiking. The album is too long so that after a while the songs, which are nearly all two or three minutes in length, almost appear interchangeable. The songs usually arrive fully formed and they depart that way - very few of the songs build up or fade away. It would have been interesting to have seen some of the songs stretched out and pushed and pulled apart. Many of them certainly could have been, but such is the uniformity of the song lengths on the album then I guess that the decision was made to present a collection of miniatures. It is the critics' favourite tactic to criticise something for what it is not rather than to engage with what the artist has deliberately chosen to present so I will say no more on the subject. Instead I will finish by saying that if you like any of the artists mentioned above then I am sure you will enjoy this album. Its mood is wintry and it feels like it was made to read and drink whisky by, and although that might not have been the intention it certainly sounds like a good thing to me.


 


Words: Chris Dawson.