Sunday, 18 June 2017

My Friend The Chocolate Cake - The Revival Meeting

I've talked before in these columns about favourite music becoming infused with memories and associations for certain times in our lives. You may remember the My Friend The Chocolate Cake song "I've got a Plan" from their 1994 album "Brood"?  For me it immediately conjures up fond memories of family road trips with my partner and our two little ones, all singing along to the car's cassette player. It's another one for that playlist to help fight off dementia!

So it is always with great anticipation that I receive David Bridie, Helen Mountfort and their friends' new releases. It's like rediscovering that favourite old coat at the back of the wardrobe and finding that it still fits and feels great. It might be a little bit daggy but hey - who cares?

"The Revival Meeting" is MFTCC's eighth studio album in twenty eight years - and it feels very grown up, at times joyful, at others wistful - but without being sentimental, even when dealing with "Jim's Refrain", a tribute to the band's sadly departed and much missed original mandolin player Andrew Carswell who passed away recently. It's a sublimely beautiful piece of music.

As with previous MFTCC albums, there is a mix of songs and instrumentals, both extroverted and introverted, uptempo and laid back. The subject matters explored range from the Australian artist Jeffrey Smart to the Pacific, with "love and small noises and futility and travelling and vague notions of justice and dying" in between, according to Bridie's idiosyncratic notes.

From the album's title and the opener "Poke Along Slowly" the listener can immediately get that this is a bunch of really good old friends getting together in a cosy shack out in the country and exchanging creative juices, fuelled by nice food and wine and bonhomie. In "Another Year" one can sense a touch of yearning for times past, but forward-looking tracks such as "Are The Kids Alright" take us on a journey into a hopeful future with a certain amount of youthful, almost punky energy.

The contemplative tune "Busojaras" takes us into Eastern European territory, courtesy the evocative violin parts contributed by Hope Csuturos. "Easter Parade" is another great uptempo, celebratory Bridie song. There's a very welcome Pump Organ-led reworking of David's movie soundtrack song "Satellite Boy". Towards the end "The Fire Turns To Embers" takes us on a very introspective journey once more.

There are fifteen tracks all up - with no fillers - so this recording session in the Victorian countryside was indeed a very fruitful reunion. Given David Bridie's love of things Papuan, MFTCC albums often feature a little detour into jaunty PNG stringband sounds - this time around it's the quite lovely and catchy "Stori Rabaul". They save the best till last though: "Jim's Refrain" rounds the album off beautifully.

Apart from Bridie on vocals and keyboards, Mountfort on her cello, and Csuturos on violin, the other musicians on this incarnation are Greg Patten (drums) and Dean Addison (double bass) and Andrew Richardson (guitar / mandolin). Watch out for this supremely talented bunch of musicians travelling around the country to promote this fine album. There are quite a few potential ear-worm tunes here, but only time will tell whether any tracks from this one will conjure up life in 2017 in future years!