Frank Turner – “England Keep My Bones”

Anyone who’s familiar with Winchester’s Frank Turner and his intense touring habits knows that he is never in one place for too long, not even his own home. Frank Turner (and his backing band The Sleeping Souls) has been touring solo for a few years now and manages to create acoustic folk-punk songs that cut the crap and get to the core of life and love.

People that know his music are avid followers, and people that aren’t usually have a different outlook after hearing him. Yes, he’s just that good! Frank Turner’s incredibly popular third album Poetry of the Deed sang songs of life’s little appreciations, constantly being on the road and the lessons learned from seeing the countries of the world. England Keep My Bones is album number four and focuses almost oppositely on Frank’s resounding love for his home and England’s heritage, but at the same time manages to keep that acoustic punk-rock spark.

Album opener Eulogy triumphantly bursts out with a punk attitude after a horn intro and gets the album started on a high with its punk-style lyrics “But on the day I die I’ll say “At least I fucking tried!” and that’s the only eulogy I need.” Peggy Sang the Blues is a song about Frank’s grandmother visiting him in a dream, but also cleverly hides punk style lyrics about playing poker in heaven and giving him sound advice on life around a blues style sound, as the title suggests. The good vibes keep coming hard and fast when I Still Believe from Frank’s latest EP Rock & Roll kicks in with its tribute to different generations of musical influences and how they’ve all helped bring people together, and creates a massive sing-along anthem.

Rivers is another song about the life of a punk-rock troubadour and traces paths across England that Frank has travelled before eventually returning home, and first single I Am Disappeared harks back to his earlier material and sings about dreams of Bob Dylan and spontaneous travelling. English Curse throws a curveball to the album – it’s an entirely acapella song about how William II died in the New Forest after being shot with an arrow by Walter Tyrell in 1100. While it’s a beautifully crafted bit of sung poetry, it also shows Frank Turner indulging his heritage and the history of his home on England Keep My Bones.

If I Ever Stray lightens the tone again with its joyful country styling and makes a promise to his friends that “If I ever stray from the path I follow, take me down to the English channel, throw me in where the water is shallow and then drag me back to shore” showing that even though Frank travels, he never forgets who his friends are. Wessex Boy carries on the theme of his friends and home through Frank singing about Winchester and all his fond memories of the places he went, and even mentions the Railway Inn where he played his earlier shows and occasionally still does whenever he’s back for long enough. Wessex Boy also manages to paint a clear picture of Frank Turner’s roots and what inspired him to start making music, and it’s clear from the passion he sings this song with how important his roots are to him.

Nights Become Days’ melody breaks up the pace of the album nicely before Redemption’s piano led symphony creeps through and builds into something entirely different and heavier. Album closer Glory Hallelujah might seem anti-religious, proclaiming “There never was no God”, but looking deeper I believe the message is that people should live to appreciate everything they have while they have it before they die. It’s not so much anti-religious as it is life appreciating.

The extra three songs available on the deluxe version of England Keep My Bones include Song for Eva Mae which is a melodic acoustic song about his Goddaughter, Wanderlust which is more of a country style song and Balthazar, Impresario which reminds me of Journey of the Magi from Poetry of the Deed. Though they don’t really add to or fit in with the theme of England Keep My Bones much, which is probably why they’re extras on the deluxe version, but any fans of Frank’s solo acoustic numbers will like these little extras a lot.

While it may not have the same immediate life-affirming attitude that made Poetry of the Deed so popular, England Keep My Bones adds a lot to Frank Turner’s arsenal and reaffirms your faith in England, reminding people of the pride we should have in the history and tradition of our country. Another great album from one of the last honest musicians in the world.

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Chuck Ragan – “Gold Country”

Perhaps better known for his daytime work as the frontman of punk band Hot Water Music, Chuck Ragan has also made a career for himself with his own blend of country folk punk in his spare time. I first saw Chuck Ragan support The Gaslight Anthem (which is fitting since they’re both signed to Side One Dummy Records) and liked his unique sound so much I thought I’d give his record a go, and Gold Country is Chuck Ragan’s latest and most popular album release.

What Chuck Ragan does on this, his solo project, can’t really be categorised into any one particular brand of music. There’s a lot of country, some blues, some acoustic, but then every so often there’s this uplifting little twist of punk which adds some bounce to the songs and gives you something you don’t expect. So to say that Gold Country is a blues record would be wrong, as would saying it’s a punk record, because its neither of them and yet both at the same time.

There’s an eclectic mix of different sounds on Gold Country, but opening the record is For Goodness Sake which is simply Chuck Ragan and a guitar creating a beautiful flowing introduction to the album. The next couple of songs are probably not the best ones on the album, but that perhaps because they’re a little slower than what you first expect from the album. But all of that changes when you start hearing the intro’s to Done and Done, a particular favourite of mine from this album with lyrics like “wake up now we’ve got to go, somewhere higher’s all I know. Leave behind the walking dead, leave the mess don’t make the bed”, The Trench and, a bit later, Cut Em Down which pick up a little bit with a twist of some punk rock added to the mix of bluegrass and violin from Jon Gaunt (the other creative half of the general project). These songs seem to be a bit closer to home for what Chuck Ragan normally does, and you can tell that from how good they sound and how they add something new to the mix of songs.

Some of the other songs take on a softer sound and have a lot of tender, meaningful lyrics coming from the heart. 10 West is a song about his longing to settle down somewhere in California with its lyrics like “I’m heading to your mountains, through your rivers, onto your sea. And I’ll make it only if I stay rolling.” This is followed by Ole Diesel, another ballad-y song and then later on by Let It Rain, a song quite clearly dedicated to Chuck Ragan’s wife.

Quite a few of the songs on Gold Country clearly take their influence from some older artists, which is probably why Chuck Ragan is detaching himself from his punk roots more and indulging himself in more folk-like influences. There’s an undeniable influence of Johnny Cash on Rotterdam that you’d be crazy to ignore, and the country roots are also evident on Good Enough For Rock And Roll and Don’t Say A Word. The slower songs like these contrast well with the more energetic ones, as it then makes it more of a mix of different kinds of folk ranging from bluegrass to country to a bouncier kind of folk, showing how versatile Chuck Ragan can make one kind of genre.

The album closer Get Em All Home is a pretty touching song clearly written about bringing troops in service home safely with the line “And all I can do is pray that the world will see what this war costs”. It’s a nice way of rounding off an album like this, but why there’s a 30 minute loop of a roaring log fire sound running afterwards isn’t explained. Surely that’s going to mess with a few people’s MP3 players. Who knows, maybe that’s the reason!

Gold Country is generally quite an inventive album, and takes you through a range of different feelings. Some parts are a little too country-style for my taste, with that twang-y, electric-y slide guitar sound going in the back of some songs, but some of the others will be easy to like if (like me you already like The Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner as there is definitely similar vibes going on!

Frank Turner – “Rock & Roll” EP

Once again, the mighty folk-punk troubadour of the south coast Frank Turner releases a new set of songs for his fans to sit and absorb in the old-timey fashion of actually sitting and listening to them. Ok, so whilst this might not be a full albums worth of material – hence why this is a 5 track EP clocking in at just over 17 minutes total – and is not exactly a follow up to his hugely successful previous album Poetry of the Deed, Rock & Roll certainly works as a bridge into something bigger surely to be released soon. A between-meals snack, as it was, for the music-hungry masses.

Frank Turner has never ceased to amaze me, personally. His music is fantastic and covers a range of emotions, he is always a gentleman on stage and on record and makes good, solid music that can very rarely be flawed and even then only by people that don’t like “this kind of music” (which, personally, I never understood as this is as close to “real” music as you can get). But above all, his music and lyrics are honest, and truthful, and always make light of points regular folk seem to miss. Poetry of the Deed did this incredibly well through songs that make you want to appreciate more about life and seize the day in a punk rock style rather than sitting and letting life happen to you instead. Rock & Roll clearly seeks to continue this train of thought with its content, and its songs about what it is to know honest music and be part of a society that is united by its roots in music.

Rock & Roll is a very well put together EP, as you would expect for a CD 5 songs in length. The songs are all in the right place and span a range of styles in what I can only think of as “the right order”. Starting off the CD is Frank Turner’s latest single I Still Believe, a song that rings out about people coming together to celebrate music in all its glory and to unite over the old folk traditions and be a part of Rock and Roll. “Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Friends and Romans, Countrymen” opens the song in a folky-acoustic fashion before it moulds itself into a gathering of people chanting back “I Still Believe” in relation to traditional styles of music bringing people together.

Pass It Along is an equally folky song about the history of the music Frank Turner takes as his influences, the styles and attitudes being handed down from generation to generation and changing along the way to still be relevant today.

Rock & Roll Romance is easily the shortest song on the record at about a minute and a half, but it is quite simply just Frank Turner, his guitar, a microphone in an empty room and a slightly bittersweet love song for someone, with the line “And I can sympathise ‘cuz I’ve been searching too and I’ve yet to find a girl half as good as you”. Essentially, this is the “slow middle” you’d normally get on a regular album condensed down into a single song to fit the EP, but that doesn’t detract from its impact at all as the song is still very moving.

To Absent Friends is an ode to friends who are no longer among us, and is by far one of the punchier songs on the album and acts in much the same way Poetry of the Deed did on Frank Turner’s previous album by lifting spirits whilst also making you think about the messages its sending out.

Lastly, The Next Round closes off the EP with its slightly melancholy sound trailing away, but leaving behind promise of a lot more to come. Quite honestly, if Frank Turner keeps putting out songs like these, I for one will keep listening!

Frank Turner – “Poetry Of The Deed”

Winchester local Frank Turner has been out making quite a name for himself in the last few years. Previously a member of the hardcore rock band Million Dead, he now writes and records his own unique blend of acoustic/country/folk/punk-rock songs which are both bitter-sweet and truly empowering at the same time. Now whilst that might seem like a lot of genres rolled into one, Frank Turner pulls all of it off amazingly well, and after a previous two albums worth of material he has now released Poetry Of The Deed, which cements his status as a unique artist along with the rest of his band.

I’ll openly admit that my buying this album has been a long time coming, but now that I own it, I truly don’t regret getting it! Poetry Of The Deed, as an album, is an eclectic mix of emotions as far as the songs and lyrics take you. The joyful, piano led opener Live Fast Die Old is both an uplifting punk-rock song about living your life to the fullest, but also doing for so long that you never stop enjoying it. The line “You’d rather burn out than fade away? Well why not both, I plan to stay” sums up the spirit of the song, which in turn is closely followed by Try This At Home, another folk-punk mix that encourages all listeners to “turn off your stereo, pick up that pen and paper, you could do much better than a half-arsed skinny English country singer”. For all the talent and charisma he has, Frank Turner doesn’t lose his sense of humor or irony throughout Poetry Of The Deed, and that just makes the songs all the more interesting. For instance, Dan’s Song is just a song about him and his friend Dan taking some beers to a park to drink, and inviting people to join them. A simple, humorous little song, but the way that it’s sung gives it more meaning than what you would otherwise realize.

The title song Poetry Of The Deed itself is one of the more rock-led songs, Tuner’s punky vocals giving power and lift to the chorus lines, and all the interestingly phrased lyrics that paint a picture of not being held back in wanting to live dreams, such as the line “let’s grab life by the throat and live it to pieces”. The Fastest Way Back Home is the closest thing on Poetry of The Deed to a love ballad, but it’s still one that rock with its piano led folksiness. Right after this, though, is Sons Of Liberty which is a total turn as a political punk song which drips not only with Irish folk balladry (especially with the violin accompaniment at the end) but also with malice and scorn for the government with the lines “Stand up sons of liberty, and fight for what you own. Stand up sons of liberty and fight, fight for your homes”.

Recent single The Road is a beautiful little country-style song about the people Frank Turner meets and the stories he can tell from being on tour and seeing the places he’s seen, which then gives way to a couple of darker-tinted songs such as Richard Divine which could easily deceive you as a less dark song if you were less attentive to the lyric content about suicide. However dark these may be, there’s Sunday Nights to lighten the mood with its slow, melodic verses.

Closing off Poetry Of The Deed is Journey Of The Magi, an almost mournful song that speaks of stories of Moses and Greek Gods that only have stories to tell because they didn’t take the easier road – a message that speaks true not only of Frank Turner himself, but for anyone who cares to listen enough to the messages thread throughout these songs, ending with the line ” So saddle your horse and shoulder your load, burst at the seams, be what you dream, and take to the road.”

There is an eclectic mix of messages and songs on Poetry Of The Deed, ranging from the uplifting and empowering to the dark and political. Frank Turner has done a fantastic job threading ideals and messages throughout these songs, and the music that he’s made to go with them is just as great. Poetry Of The Deed is definitely an ideal listen for anyone who enjoys City And Colour but needs a bit more energy to the acoustics, or anyone that enjoys punk-rock songs but feels they may need a break from all the angst! Definitely one to give a listen to, at the very least!