The number of albums and EPs in 2016 that have actually addressed worldwide issues, with political pressure, is frustratingly low. Long gone are the days of R.A.T.M and N.W.A who were creating movements, representing and speaking out for a minority, and shining a light on issues at hand.
One such issue is the fear of immigration, and refugee status, a topic that is further being pushed to the side by the UK, even as it continues from climax to climax. But one such musician willing to at least tackle the subject of immigration is Ben Glover, a Northern Irish born singer songwriter currently residing in Nashville. Being no stranger to the feeling of restlessness and not belonging, Glover wrote ‘The Emigrant’ to instead show some form of resemblance, how the feelings of loneliness and ostracised aren’t just exclusive to immigrants.
Starting off in his roots, ‘The Parting Glass’ opens the album with a fast, Irish jig that builds on fiddles, hand drums, and traditional Irish instruments, accompanied by an impressive production from Nelson Hubbard. Creating authentic Irish music and pairing it with modern production compression, ambience and stereo imaging, truly refreshes the genre as it stands out from the more atypical representations of Irish folklore. The album frequently references The Pogues, Bridie Gallagher and Ralph McTell as Glover breathes new life into traditional songs and forgotten remedies for loss and pain.
‘A Song of Home’ and title track ‘The Emigrant’ take their foundation from slow piano chords and arpeggios, building on fiddles and finger-style guitar and an immense kick that accentuates the choruses like a cannon shot. Covering James Galways Irish American journey, Glover’s voice stands out with a voice full of expression and emotion, a vital ingredient to write convincingly for Irish folk. His voice sells the music more than anything, and faulters only when tackling the more obvious Irish folk songs like ‘Moonshiner’, which leaves no room for the imagination. However, the extended techniques and glissando harmonics on the violin once again test the limitations of folk music. What Glover rarely lacks lyrically is accounted for in excellent arrangement.
Continuing onto ‘Heart in my Hand’, combines a percussively acoustic Nashville likeness with Irish fiddle, and sublime imagery (‘Harbour lights fade/ In the dark waters deep/ I’m stuck in between/Awake and asleep), as Ben once again proves his accolades. We finally get a glimpse into an original and personal track that possesses an unidiomatic style. A combination of suspended chords, and 7ths more often found in jazz and blues makes up a middle eight that covers new ground for the once stapled and decided genre.
Nearing the end of the album Ben adds a rendition of Brendan Behan ‘The Auld Triangle’ to his catalogue, where ‘The Band Playing Waltzing Matilda’, a reference to The Pogues follows in suit. Although Glover masks the songs with his own style, we are left thirsty for originality. It’s one thing to cover a good song well, but the efforts and procedure to create his own memorable folk song are of something else entirely.
The small criticisms that can be made of something so beautifully thought out are minor at best, as ‘The Emigrant’ fades out to the traditional piano ballad ‘The Green Glens of Antrim’. A foreword that makes a full circle as Glover returns to his roots once more, revitalising a genre and paying homage to an issue that has affected us for the ages.