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Frank Turner started out in hardcore punk band Million Dead, then surprised fans by turning to acoustic folk-influenced material on his first two solo albums. Third release Poetry of the Deed is more electric and clearly Bruce Springsteen inspired, but the songs generally don't stand up as well. On album four, the surprisingly posh Winchester native puts all the eggs together for a basket of delight.
The minor hit single I Still Believe gives quite a clear demonstration of where Frank is coming from. He feels the timeless power of an anthemic rock song to bring people together and harness their feelings. When he roars "I still believe that everyone can write a song for every time they've lost, and every time they've won, so just remember folks, we're not just saving lives, we're saving souls, and we're having fun", he's putting things into words that I didn't realise I felt so strongly.
In a similar vein, Wessex Boy reminisces on past times and the binding glue a stable happy upbringing gives a man - and drops a memorable chorus primed for stadium singalongs. On a more folky vein, English Curse is a largely a capella number about myth and legend, and Rivers sums up something timeless about the literal and figurative life-giving effects of your home countryside and natural environment. Glory Hallelujah brings the album to a euphoric chorus closer, but maybe not in the way you'd expect - this is an ode to atheism, to being in control of your own destiny and knowing you need to make every day count. Whether you agree or not, the man can convey a message and a set of feelings.
I discovered Frank Turner surprisingly late, but now have all his previous albums, and the new release Tape Deck Heart. As he's suddenly increase so much in profile, I almost feel entitled to pun one of his early songs and declare that I Knew Frank Turner Before He Got Famous, but this would be a lie. We owe so much to the hard core of fans who've made this unassuming man a genuine star in a sea of manufactured drivel. Who'd've thought?
"My Name's Frank Turner and I come from Winchester"
Frank Turner is proud of who he is and where he comes from. On Photosynthesize Frank Turner declared "And I'm happy and I'm settled in the person I've become " whilst as far back as "Nashville Tennessee" on one of his early EP's he sings "I was raised in Middle England not in Nashville Tennessee" and its these themes of his identity as an Englishman and his beliefs he explores in his fourth studio album "England Keep my Bones" Welcome to the life of Frank Turner musician, past present and future.
The album is an evolution rather than a departure from the mixture of punk, folk and good old rock and roll that characterised his previous three albums. There's still very much an element of very catchy anthemic choruses you can't help sing a long to on songs such as the singles "I Believe, "Peggy Sang the Blues" (a tribute to his beloved late grandmother) and my tip for a future single "I am Disappeared".''' I Believe"''' is classic Frank Turner. Featuring on last year's "Rock and Roll" EP, this testament to the power of rock and roll is a simple rock and roll song with an infectious tune, catchy lyrics and a blistering harmonica riff. Its the type of song that just makes me want to sing and dance along to. Its very much a live favourite with a high degree of crowd participation. The backing vocals were partially taken from the crowds response at Reading Festival.
Turner does experiment with his sound adding a quintessentially English institution the brass band to the introduction of album opener "Eulogy" giving the listener a touch of the Hovis tune or an afternoon in a northern park to his sound before the song morphs into a heavier sound with crashing drums and Queen like guitars. "Eulogy" is a tongue in cheek number with the lyric "not everyone can be Freddy Mercury". Its a short but sweet beginning to the album.
There has always been elements of folk in Turner's solo work but it is on "England Keep My Bones" he comes of age in this genre with superb examples of his command of the folk song. The first is "Rivers" one of my favourite songs on album. This ode to England's waterways and coastlines is a simple gentle folk song. Its such a pretty arrangement with a very rustic acoustic guitar backed by a gentle accordion (ironically played by Franz Nicolay an American) and a really affecting fiddle. Turner's soft vocal matches the gentleness of this pretty tune. The lyrics which are almost poetry paint a pastoral quaintness of England as a dear green place reminiscent of the lyrics of Jerusalem.. I really love the tapestry and patchwork imagery he uses to convey the natural make up of England. "Nights Become Days" a song about coming down from drugs follows in a similar vein with its pretty languid late night vocals and gentle acoustic guitars.
The highlight of the album for me is "English Curse". This is an acapella traditional style ballad on the topic of the death of a medieval king and thus is a brave move. It easily could have been a bit pretentious but Frank pulls off an English Curse" to great effect. I must admit that I assumed English Curse was a much older song and not one of his own compositions when I first heard it previewed at the Brighton gig. I thought this, as he had performed the traditional folk song "Barbara Allen" in a similar style at another gig. The song about the legend of William Rufus's death in the New Forrest stands out and commands attention in its sheer powerfulness starkness and simplicity. It really gives me goosebumps each time i listen to this uniquer track.
"Wessex Boy " follows the theme of home and identity. This acoustic number about Turner's relationship with his hometown Winchester is one I and anyone who comes from a smaller town can relate to so much "There's something about coming back to your old hometown again" "despite the little changes the place still feels the same" and aparticularly "nooned still lives there and you've got no place to go" conveys perfectly how I feel when I go back to visit my parents in my own hometown of Dumfries.
England Keep my Bones" might be Turner's ode to England but he is not afraid to acknowledge his American influences with references to "Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen , Elvis Jerry Lee (Lewis ), Johnny who I assume might be Johnny Cash and randomly Hemingway...Then again he also name checks medieval revolution Watt Tyler.
The final theme Turner explores is his thoughts on belief and religion. There seems to be a fair amount of religious imagery on the album with lyrics such as "I believe in the saints Jerry Lewis and all the greats", " and "We're not saving lives but saving souls" in "I Believe" and "And all our sins will be washed away" on "Rivers". He continues the religious theme by ending the album perhaps one of his most controversial songs "Glory Hallelujah". This song complete with church organ introduction and a gospel feel in place is an atheist's hymn proclaiming in its chorus "there is no god". Due to this I can not see the album going down well in the Bible Belt t of America (Although Turner does apologise to his religious friends and his mother in the sleeve notes to the album) Controversy aside its a cracking tune which will be excellent sung live. I just better not get caught singing it at work in the cathedral!
Unfortunately there are some weaker links. I am not so fond of "One Foot before the Other". Its perhaps the heaviest song on the album with an almost metal feel to it due to the guitars and heavy bass and drums. Turner's vocals can be a bit shouty on this one Perhaps I would like it more if it did not follow the brilliant "English Curse" Both "Redemption " and "I am Disappeared" fail in my mind as they are both nice enough mid tempo tracks but just do not match the quality of some of the other tracks on the album.
My copy of "England Keep my Bones" is the deluxe edition and its a very nice Cd to have. Its presented very smartly in a green and gold leather look hardback CD case that makes it look more like a book than a CD. Mine is ultras special to me , as it is signed by the man himself when i met him at a record signing at Fopp in Covent Garden (where I bought the CD for £11.99. it can be bought cheaper at amazon for £8.99). I particularly like the booklet inside the cover , as the lyrics have annotations by Frank in his own handwriting. I feel it gives it that personal touch to quite a personal album.
The other feature that makes this the deluxe edition is the inclusion of three bonus tracks "Song for Eva Mae" "Wanderlust" and "Balthazar, Impresario". For bonus tracks this trio is not bad at all. I particularly like "Song for Eva Mae" dedicated to perhaps his god daughter (certainly the baby daughter of a god friend). Its another relaxed pretty acoustic number and I like the sentiments of Frank giving advice to this little bundle of joy. I know it makes me think about my relationship as Auntly Sarah to my friend's children and particularly my little niece. "Wanderlust" has a slight country feel to it rather than folk and covers similar territory to "Jet Lag" or "The Road". " Balthazar Impresario" another acoustic song about a vaudeville support act is a nice piece of whimsy with some nice fiddle and guitar work that rounds the album off very nicely.
"England Keep my Bones" is a very competent piece of work from an artist who is really coming of age. There are a few weaker tracks but these can be forgiven when you have such gems as "Glory Hallelujah", "Rivers" and "English Curse". England can certainly keep Frank Turner's bones as he is a credit to the nation and that's high praise coming from a Scottish woman
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Peggy Sang The Blues
3 I Still Believe
5 I Am Disappeared
6 English Curse
7 One Foot Before The Other
8 If Ever I Stray
9 Wessex Boy
10 Nights Become Days
12 Glory Hallelujah
13 Song For Eva Mae
15 Balthazar, Impresario