Villagers’ New Album a Great Hour of Folk-Rock

4 Feb

The Villagers are a five-piece, indie folk band from Ireland. Founded in 2008, the Villagers released their first album Becoming a Jackal in 2010. They’ve added two more since then: {Awayland} and last year’s Darling Arithmetic. This is important because the band’s new album, Where Have You Been All My Life?, draws ten of its twelve tracks from those three albums.

So, is this a “Best of..” compilation? Sort of. But not exactly.

Last July, the Villagers spent a long, long day at London’s prestigious RAK Studios — revisiting some of the best songs from their three previous albums. These songs were all performed “live,” but with no audience noise. One, or at most, two takes. No overdubbing or layering of additional tracks. Just the band reinterpreting the songs as they would if they played them for a live audience.

They also performed two new songs in the same way: “Memoir,” which Villagers singer-songwriter Conor O’Brien wrote for British-French actress and singer, Charlotte Gainsbourg; and “Wichita Lineman,” a classic Jimmy Webb composition originally recorded by Glen Campbell in the late 1960s.

This has resulted in a superb collection of music that would make an excellent addition to any indie folk-rock fan’s library.

Half of the songs on Where Have You Been All My Life? come from the band’s most recent release, Darling Arithmetic. That album is somewhat more intimate and simpler than the Villagers’ first two releases. The band has delivered similar performances on all the tracks included in this album.

Typically, at this point in my review, I share descriptions of some of my favorite tracks. That’s harder this time, because almost every one of the songs is excellent. Where Have You Been All My Life? is an album you can play and enjoy from start to finish.

It opens with “Set the Tigers Free,” a slow stroll through a fragile soundscape created by a sustained synth chord, acoustic guitar, brushes on drums, and O’Brien’s understated vocals.

Track 4, “Courage,” is strummy and bouncy. O’Brien’s vocals remain gentle, but are less delicate and more traditionally folky here. A piano adds nicely to the melody.

“Memoir,” the song O’Brien wrote for Gainsbourg, is also clearly a standout. Light and jazzy, the song has a great bass line. The energy in the tune serves as a counterpoint to some of the bitterness in the lyrics. “And in the orgy, I can vaguely hear/The outline of your call” and “I remember you undressing/As I set myself on fire/And the funeral was quick/As I lay lifeless on your pyre.”

Track 9, “The Waves,” is an epic, anthemic version of the tune from the band’s second album. There’s great interplay between the guitars, synth and bass. It’s the biggest track on the album with full drums.

Where Have You Been All My Life? closes with a fantastic cover of Webb’s “Wichita Lineman.” The tune’s signature bass riff — similar to the Glen Campbell version — instantly signals what the song is. (I can name that song in five notes!) The melody blends a bright piano with acoustic guitar and stand-up bass — and adds an intriguing flugelhorn solo in the lead break. Great song. Fantastic performance!

With a full 55 minutes of music, this is an album that’s well worth your time.


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