Muddy Summers and the Dirty Field Whores
‘The Elegance of Mud’ Album Review
by Alan Ewart
A Clarion Call for our Age
Those of you who know me through my writing for Louder Than War and others, or through my own websites, may know that I gave up reviewing music when I went back to University a couple of years ago. I was therefore delighted to be asked to review the latest offering, ‘The Elegance of Mud,’ from Muddy Summers and the Dirty Field Whores. Admittedly, I did have a sneak preview of a couple of tracks during a quite wonderful, Cider and Gin fuelled, evening in the Forest of Dean, during the summer.
Anyone who frequents the grass roots music scene will undoubtedly have heard Muddy Summers & DFW especially on the festival scene. Their stripped back, raw, uncompromising, sound and the well-crafted, and often cutting, lyrics, a hallmark of the band, is certainly still present, but this is an album that goes several steps further. I think that this is an album where a band really “found” itself.
To explain I need to take the somewhat unusual step of beginning at the end. The closing track “Bella Ciao” is a masterpiece. Many of you will recognise Bella Ciao as the Anti-Fascist anthem adopted by Italian Partisan fighters rebelling against the fascist regimes of Mussolini and Hitler, but here there has been a twist.
Perhaps the most obvious twist is the updating of the lyrics, they address fascism more directly, and they reflect the rise of the far right in countries across the world, including right here in the UK. So Bella Ciao, serves as a clarion call, a warning that fascism is on the rise, and that we must wake up to threat it poses.
However, Bella Ciao, does so much more than this, because it is the key to the album as a piece of work, it is the glue that holds everything together. This is an arrangement that takes you to a piazza in tiny mountaintop village in 1940’s Italy. The partisans are gathered, sipping Grappa, in a dimly lit bar, their music giving them heart for the battle to come. This is an arrangement best heard in just such a piazza, or gathered around a campfire on a warm summer evening, drinking cider, in a festival field. It stirs the blood, it reaches you emotionally, and, on a more cerebral level, it makes the entire piece of musical art make sense. It also sets the scene for the style adopted across the entire album.
The Elegance of Mud is without question an album of 2020. It charts the rare ups and the many downs that the year of 2020 has thrown us. Sometimes the allusion to 2020 is pretty clear as in the donning of the “tinfoil hats” in the delightfully ironic ‘Conspiraloon.’
Often it is deeply personal, perhaps most clearly heard on Boundaries, the second track. The pain is close to the surface, there is a deep sense of betrayal. Yet this isn’t pain revealed for its own sake, it’s not self-pity, this is pain overcome, a complete adherence to your own beliefs and boundaries, something captured beautifully in the lyric “I hope one day when you hear my name, you’ll hear Boundaries ain’t a game.” It’s a hard edged message wrapped up in a cheery dance tune.
The personal is to the fore in a number of other tracks, notably in ‘Bored of the Bandwagon Battle’ and in ‘Secrets’ but the sense of personal is present throughout the entire album. Personal is sometimes wrapped in allegory as per ‘Don’t play chess with chickens,’ sometimes it’s a bit more obvious, but as a piece the entire album invites us to consider exactly where we are in this moment in time, and perhaps it gives us a space to think about how we can achieve the world we want to live in.
I guess that I have painted this as a dark album, but in reality it is far from that. The messages and the depths are certainly present for those who, like me, like to analyse themes in lyrics to gain a broader understanding of the artists perspective. As such this is an album that really benefits from multiple listens.
At the same time, The Elegance of Mud is packed full of bright tunes and humorous stories, for example ‘House of Lords’ is packed full of funny anecdotes, and do listen out for the background comments. It is also danceable and there are plenty of big singalong choruses which will come into their own live, something I am sure we are all looking forward to.
As should be apparent, I found The Elegance of Mud a hugely enjoyable listen, and a very interesting social commentary on a very difficult year. Getting an album out at all in the current climate is incredibly difficult. To produce an album of this quality, when each band member had to record their tracks remotely, in their own homes, is quite an achievement. To record, mix, produce, master, and release an album in two-weeks, during lockdown, is nothing short of extraordinary.
It’s a solid 5* from me.
You can hear it HERE