‘Folk Music’ is an elusive term. Depending on who you ask, it can mean anything from the centuries-old jigs of deepest Ireland to the computerized sighs of Bon Iver’s ’22, A Million’. To Keston Cobblers Club, it means acoustic instrumentation, accessible song structures and a sound that’s wholesome enough for the Hobbiton Summer Fete. With third album ‘Almost Home’, by their own admission, KCC have gone for a more stripped-back approach to songwriting, and it works a treat. Inviting as that field of sunflowers silver-screen romantics are always running through, ‘Almost Home’ is, in both senses of the phrase, not ‘a load of old Cobblers’.
For a band with a core made of siblings and childhood friends, it is no wonder that their sound has a healthy dose of rose-tinted nostalgia. For ‘Almost Home’ they’ve taken that even further; the album is all about homecoming. Keeping their string sections subdued this time round, it’s the guitars and pianos that lead the way. The melodies are easy to follow, and the band’s gentle harmonies are as effortless as campfire singalongs. The vocal interplay of siblings Matthew and Julia Lowe is especially fluent, on the chirpy ‘Bicycles’ or the brisk and bold ‘Demons’. Ever uplifting and never abrasive, the music soothes like an aural arm round the shoulders.
Though it’s true that the extravagance has been pruned a touch, the band’s love of instruments is still very much in evidence. Strings still feature and give the album an elegant lift, whilst the band make use of ukuleles, summery guitars, and their trademark village green brass wherever they can. ‘Concord’ is built around Tom Sweet’s banjo, percussionist Harry Stasinopoulos is unleashed for the beachside ‘Hand That Feeds You’, whilst folksy ballad ‘Martha and Giles’ features a bona fide tuba solo care of Bethan Ecclestone. Every member pulls their weight, and sews this eclectic jumble of sounds into an intricate technicolour patchwork.
They’re not a band afraid to experiment either. Bass-led ‘On Your Own’ has more in common with Paul Simon than their indie folk roots, with afrobeat brass, synth-stylings and funkilicious electric guitars. Folktronica dalliances make up the album’s final act, and though not all of it flows as effortlessly as their purely acoustic work, closing track ‘All I Need’ might be the standout. Piano-led, awash with ebbing harmonies, and building to an ethereal shoegaze-inflected finale, it’s an ideal closer to such a reflective collection of songs.
The Lumineers’ Jeremiah Fraites once said of his band’s uncomplicated style, “anyone who can play an instrument can play one of our songs”. Whilst that may not strictly be true for Keston Cobblers Club, that same inclusive ethos is there. Building on their success with ‘One, For Words’ and ‘Wildfire’, they’ve kept that cheerful sound whilst digging deeper into what makes KCC so special. It’s an album for reminiscing over those childhood summers that seemed to last forever, and trying to recapture some of that boundless optimism.