The Last Harvest is the debut release from The Kentish Spires who, as the name suggests channel the bit of England famous for Chaucer, murdering bishops and The Canterbury Scene, the last of which is explicitly referenced by this collective. They do let you know that they are following in the footsteps of Caravan and whoever else, although with powerful vocals provided by Lucie V (Tinderstick) you might suspect that there is a bit more to come from this experienced group of musicians, and you would not be wrong.
To be honest, although the phrase Canterbury scene has taken on mythic proportions, it is mostly just that, mythic and probably takes on greater proportion in the minds of Kentish musicians (or should that be musicians of Kent? Another distinction no-one outside Kent cares about) than it ever did at the time. Which is all to say that I personally find the Canterbury label a bit of a drag for what is a cracking, sophisticated production from these extraordinary musicians. The opening track Kingdom Of Kent is a case in point. This is a mighty track to open up with and sets out a formidable stall. Retro keyboards and woodwind abound hinting at a highly jazz-tinged core. Lucie V alternates between folksy and soulful, but the tale of post-Roman invaders being beaten off is retrogressive rather than retro. In this edition, the next track Clarity mixed by Rob Reed (Magenta) tells a witty tale of modern womanhood folksy woodwind plays off against a jazzy core in a mirror of the labyrinth in state of mind of the protagonist, and shows that this ensemble are better than the wattle and daub imagery would suggest. The band really start to hit their stride on Spirit Of The Skies. This is more sure footed, letting the jazz feel take a hold with a solid rock baseline, and you can sense the band settling and hitting their grooves. Now we are ready to soar. TTWIG (That's The Way It Goes) is another song which is more recognisably rooted in the modern world, more jazzy and infectious confirming the areas where the band are more comfortable in their own skin. Paul Hornsby's woodwind here as throughout is a delight and central to the success of this venture. But there is more variety to come. Introception is a driving rocker with a rousing chorus of defiance from Lucie V dismissing an unfortunate from her affections, and showing off her vocal power in the process, while Danny Chang's guitars and Rik Loveridge's Hammond get as good an airing as the vocal chords. The elegiac The Last Harvest mixes in more avant-garde jazz sections, with the organ coda ringing in shades of Procul Harum. An indulgence of a track, but also the most accomplished.
This is an album of constant variety as the final track Hengist Ridge shows, bookending the collection with another unfortunate historical hark back, but forgiven for the brightness of the delivery, the sophisticated jazz sound coming to the fore again. If you can look past the labels, there is a superb band looking to get out, more comfortable in the modern world than grubbing around in the past, definitely something to look out for in the future, there is so much ability in this recording that it will be interesting to see where it takes them.
***+ Andrew Cottrell
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