Things get bleak and beautiful on album number four

“These are the most honest songs I’ve ever written and they represent new ground for me creatively. They may not be radio friendly, or even ‘friendly’ at all, but I’ve been wanting to make a record like this for a long time.”

So says Will Varley when asked about his fourth album, “Kingsdown Sundown,” and that feel is all over the 11 songs here.

The album is a product of its surroundings. Both literally – it was recorded underneath a pub by the sea, with the waves thumping, and it is a knowingly bleak thing – and figuratively.

After all, of all the music that is meant to change the world, folk music is still the one true protest movement. Where grunge was Generation X craving something for themselves and punk was a nihilistic world where everything was going to die, folk has always had the questions and the answers.

So it is that “Kingsdown Sundown” begins with the simple and plaintive “To Build A Wall” and in so doing follows the great tradition from Woody Guthrie, Billy Bragg, Frank Turner, whoever you care to name, and the darker “Something Is Breaking” makes the thought even clearer. Taking on everyone from the “cowards that hide behind digital masks” to the suggestion that it “means nothing to put down a flag where you stand…..and religion will lead us nowhere….”

There is, if you will, a trio of “social conscience” tracks here. These are completed by the pulsing “We Want Our Planet Back”. One of the few to use electric guitar to supplement the stark acoustics, this one is proof that Varley has broadly the same manifesto as this reviewer: “another lie in the right wing paper/another six million brain dead readers” opines Varley, in a way that suggests he means it.

Some truly brilliant evocative songwriting permeates pretty much everywhere. The scene painted in “Let Your Guard Down” – which begins “in a KFC in the early hours” – is wonderful and “February Snow” is beautifully done.

While many of the songs are three minutes or so, on a couple of them Varley really stretches himself, and if “When She Wakes Up” has echoes of Dylan, then that’s a compliment, while the mournful “Too Late To Soon” is arguably even better, with its poetic imagery to the fore.

Although the instrumentation is largely the same throughout, “….Sundown” is a varied piece of work. “Wild Bird” has a traditional feel, for example, while “Back To Hell” has an almost jazzy hue worthy of the likes of Urban Voodoo Machine.

Things end pretty much as they began. “We’ll Keep Making Plans” is short, sweet and plaintive, and brings to an end a quite wonderful album.

Folk is hip again, Bob Dylan made the Radio 4 news show PM the other day for goodness sake, but to suggest that Will Varley could ride those coat tails would be to suggest he tried to. Rather it seems on “Kingsdown Sundown” he’s made something effortlessly brilliant.

Rating 9/10

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