thu 06/05/2021

CD: Trembling Bells – The Sovereign Self | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Trembling Bells – The Sovereign Self

CD: Trembling Bells – The Sovereign Self

Scottish folk rockers revisit the time when hippies were casting off Paisley Pattern in favour of brown corduroy

The Sovereign Self - Rooted in the fag-end of the hippie dream

Trembling Bells appear to be resolutely stuck in 1969 – a time when hippiedom’s tastes turned from groovy Paisley Pattern to dreary brown corduroy. However, it would seem to be a 1969 with no Vietnam war, no civil rights struggle in the USA and no civil unrest in Northern Ireland: in fact, one where the outside world doesn’t seem to intrude at all.

Trembling Bells appear to be resolutely stuck in 1969 – a time when hippiedom’s tastes turned from groovy Paisley Pattern to dreary brown corduroy. However, it would seem to be a 1969 with no Vietnam war, no civil rights struggle in the USA and no civil unrest in Northern Ireland: in fact, one where the outside world doesn’t seem to intrude at all. Therefore, instead of songs powered by idealism, hope and wild abandonment, Trembling Bells have produced a painfully retro album that wallows in escapism and a longing for an idealised past rooted in the fag-end of the hippy dream.

While the debt to Sandy Denny-era Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band may have been undeniable on previous Trembling Bells albums, The Sovereign Self sees the addition of Alasdair C Mitchell as a second guitarist and a hefty injection of psychedelia to their sound. This is particularly evident on opening tune “Between the Womb and the Tomb”, “Killing Time in London Fields” and “Bells of Burford”, where Lavinia Blackwell’s Grace Slick-like vocals front fuzzy guitar and organ-powered psychedelic wig-outs which more than suggest Volunteers-era Jefferson Airplane but without the social commentary, or any of the bite. “The Singing Blood” brings a dash of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’s laid-back country rock to the mix, while the more lively “I Is Someone Else” unashamedly lifts the guitar line from David Bowie’s “Width of a Circle”. “O, Where Is Saint George?” even begins with that hippy staple of sitar-like noises and faux-Eastern sounds before morphing into a folkie singalong that gives off the somewhat unappetising whiff of unwashed Aran jumpers.

In short, The Sovereign Self harks back to a time when pastoral hippiedom was on its last legs and was about to be shoved aside by something with considerably more spirit. It is also the kind of music that gave hippies a bad name, and it’s a mystery why anyone would want to revisit it.

Trembling Bells have produced a painfully retro album that wallows in escapism and a longing for an idealised past

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