Shave the Monkey,
The Unseelie Court
(Percheron, 1992)

Shave the Monkey is a British folk band with a broad range of influences. The music on The Unseelie Court, the band's debut album, ranges from medieval times to modern, with shades of jazz and rock bolstering the solid folk sound.

The music on The Unseelie Court is so good -- and so varied -- that it really whets my appetite to hear everything else this band has recorded. (They've recorded three albums since then, with another on the way.)

But let's start with this one, eh? Unseelie begins with a jammin' set that really showcases the band's varied style. "Unseelie/Stella/Jewish Tune" starts off with a far-eastern sound, a tune that picks up the pace, then picks up the pace again, keeping the whirlingest of dervishes dizzy by one tune's end, then segueing into a vigorous flute piece that retains the exotic flair while adding a more European-sounding bass layer.

The instrumental skills of this band are extremely varied, with a stable including bouzouki, flute, melodeon, bass, hurdy-gurdy, keyboards, bagpipes -- and a few more exotic instruments, too. The music is wild and fun, sometimes joyful and frolicsome, sometimes stately and timeless. "Derriere Les Carreux/107-11" in particular marries ancient courtly music to a modern sound. "Theme Vanietais," based on the theme song of a French soap opera, comes across as a very measured, stately dance.

Singer/bassist Carolyn Sheppard demonstrates her strong British vocals first on "Moonbark," her own composition with tension-building instrumental riffs that bridge lyrics tying the business of wooing to the art of making music (although the liner notes call the words "total nonsense"). She and bandmate Bryan Causton penned a moody, haunting indictment of 16th-century witch-finder general Matthew Hopkins, who accused and killed numerous "witches" in his day. "Moon Song" is a magical ballad about poaching. "Bonny Light Horseman" is a sombre song about loss in the Napoleonic wars. The album ends with a redo of "Witch Finder General."

Shave the Monkey has a unique sound to match a very unique name. The band matches traditional, sometimes ancient roots to new compositions and modern musical sensibilities for a fun, exciting sound. I very much want to know where this band has gone, musically, in the past decade.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 20 December 2003

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