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Album review: Stanley Brinks and The Kaniks “Turtle Dove”

May 13, 2016

Along with his collaborators, The Kaniks, Stanley Brinks has made yet another glorious album which celebrates the individuality of us all at the same time as it reminds us we’re not all that different, really, under the skin.

Click here to read the whole review at Folk Radio UK

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Cover of Turtle DoveTurtle Dove finds Stanley Brinks, the peripatetic multi-instrumentalist singer and songwriter, teaming up with the five-piece Norwegian folk collective The Kaniks for his new album on Fika Recordings. Never one to do things by halves, Stanley took The Kaniks to a remote island off the coast of south west Norway where, over the course of a week, the band recorded enough material for three albums; Turtle Dove is the first to be released. The result is a heady blend of what the PR notes call Stanley’s “unique antifolk style [and] his fondness for calypso” with The Kaniks’ highly individual distillation of folk, country and bluegrass.

The album opens with its title track, ‘Turtle Dove’, a short, sparse instrumental mood-setter featuring just Kjetil Olai Lunde’s double bass and a mandolin in an atmospheric duet, before an abrupt change of mood for the uptempo countryfied shuffle of ‘Say Goodbye’. Erlend Aasland’s trombone dances woozily around a clutch of syncopated mandolins while Stanley’s instantly identifiable voice leads the massed vocals of the ensemble in a happy ramble through what turns out to be one of the album’s highlights.

‘I Spread My Wings’ maintains the tempo while introducing a more lyrically downbeat note through the clever use of some tight minor key changes. Olav Christer Rossebø’s fiddle shines while Kjetil’s double bass and Erlend’s trombone demonstrate an unusual but fascinating rhythmic interplay. It’s followed by ‘One More Day’ which returns to the nonchalantly uptempo style of ‘Say Goodbye’ with a lovely banjo solo midway through and some delightfully off-kilter riffing between the mandolins.

Drawing on the traditional English ballad ‘Scarborough Fair’ for its melody, ‘This World’ is a slow, courtly subversion of the old standard into a paean to the pleasures of sharing a drink (or two!) backed by a distinctly east European folk vibe. It’s an unexpected highlight, carried out with a beguiling mix of respect and a spirit of invention and could, I think, make the leap into crossover success.

The following pair of tunes, ‘Day In Day Out’ and ‘Slow Peace’ sit well in the album’s flow, offering a brief interlude of introspection. The former is a measured, melancholy almost-polka which evokes some of the traditional Nordic folk songs while the latter is a brooding, downbeat instrumental reminding the listener of the tightness of the rhythmic interplay between Kjetil’s double bass and Erlend’s trombone, overlaid with Olav Christer Rossebø’s sharp-edged fiddle drones.

‘Come Come Springtime’ lifts the mood in no uncertain terms: it’s a cheery drinking song with a distinctly bluegrass feel over which the ensemble bellow out the refrain of the title. Various members of The Kaniks step forward throughout to take a solo; by the end the song seems to be moving into calypso territory but its feelgood vibe wins out, to make it another of the album’s highlights.

By all logic, the slow rhythmic stutter of ‘Between Me And The Future’ shouldn’t work but it’s a measure of the sheer musicianship of Stanley and his collaborators that it does, and does so with panache and style. On first listen, ‘Stronger Than Wine’ seems musically straightforward but repeated plays show it to be more complex than that. Its changes are subtle and its lyric may be one of Stanley’s best. I can’t help but hearing in its refrain, echoes of the melody from ‘Top Of The World’ (the country classic made famous in the 1970s by both Lynn Anderson and The Carpenters) but this only adds to its inspired charm.

The penultimate ‘Zombie Taboo’ is a slow, mournful duet which foregrounds Olav’s rootsy fiddle, being joined a third of the way through by Stanley’s distinctive voice in a modern day horror story about, well, a zombie, terrorising a rural American village. It’s an altogether curious piece which seems, to me, to be somewhat out of place with the overall flow of the album and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it even now. Things get back on track for ‘And The Violin’, a slowburning stomper of a love song which brings the record to a satisfying conclusion.

My digital review copy of Turtle Dove contained two additional tracks which, if I understand the wording on Fika’s online store correctly, are included in the purchase price as a bonus download. ‘Too Much Women’ is a minimalist calypso-infused tune which, to my ears, bears a passing resemblance to the Mexican folk song ‘La Bamba’ (probably best known from Ritchie Valens’ 1958 hit) although Stanley and The Kaniks give it an idiosyncratic and likeable reworking; while ‘For The Road’ rounds it all out with a slow, tipsy after-hours waltz.

Turtle Dove is a welcome addition to Stanley Brinks’ back catalogue; he’s one of the most imaginative and accomplished songwriters around today with an unerring instinct for creating atmospheric and engaging albums. Along with his collaborators, The Kaniks, Stanley Brinks has made yet another glorious album which celebrates the individuality of us all at the same time as it reminds us we’re not all that different, really, under the skin. I can see it becoming an indispensable part of my summer soundtrack and am very much looking forward to hearing the other two albums in this trilogy of Nordic antifolk. Great stuff!

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Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (12 May 2016)

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