The Memory Band: Apron Strings

Jennifer Kelly

UK semi-super folk group spins languorous, sunny-afternoon soundscapes out of old songs, string-band jams, psyche-soul one-hits and a Carly Simon song.

The Memory Band

Apron Strings

Label: DiCristina Stair Builders
US Release Date: 2006-10-10
UK Release Date: 2006-10-10

This second outing from British folk electronicist Stephen Cracknell and others has a loose and engaging charm. You imagine the bunch of them -- violins, guitars, basses and cellos in tow -- warm and convivial in someone's kitchen, poring over yellowed sheet music and saying, "Oh, this one, let's do this one next." That Cracknell's friends include Adem Ilhan (of Fridge), Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip) and Simon Lord (Simian, Garden) does not detract from the homespun casualness of this record, which seems like folk unfiltered through the "new weird America" lens, naïve and honest and non-selfconscious.

The disc breaks down roughly even between instrumental and sung cuts, and the vocals are themselves split between Cracknell and guest singer Nancy Wallace. Add in a couple of interesting covers and you end up with a fairly diverse disc, though one with an overarching mood of rustic simplicity. Consider the opening cut, "Blackwaterside", a traditional song borrowed from Bert Jansch, twined round with sweet-sour violin and viola and paced by hand-slapped drums. It's like a lazy walk down a gravel road, moving just fast enough to keep things interesting, but allowing plentiful space for rumination and memory.

The violin, played by Jennymay Logan (of the Elysian Quartet), is one of the defining sounds of this mustily gorgeous album, as she swoons and scrapes through the instruments and adds subversive textures to the sung tracks. She is everywhere on this record, warm then abrasive, sweet then crazily off-kilter, but never more so than in the eight-minute "I Wish I Wish." Here the complications of strings, stirring up whirls and eddies of crazy sound, stands in marked contrast to Wallace's soft, child-like voice, adding edge and aggression to what might otherwise be just another sad song.

Most of the songs on this album are either traditional ones or Cracknell's fairly respective take on British folk forms, but there are two really interesting covers. The first, "Want to Know You", was first written by John Stocklin for the Rotary Club, a psyche-soul outfit fronted by Minnie Riperton. Like the rest of the songs, this one starts with mournful folk-leaning strings and acoustic guitars. You don't hear the soul influence until the vocals start, the cello line suddenly transforming into something like a funk-soul bassline, the chorus rising into subtle triumph. But once you've heard it, it's inescapable, and you wonder how you missed it the first time. The other cover anomaly comes later on the album with "Why", a song most famously sung by Carly Simon. Again, the guitar figure that introduces the song could not be more folk traditional, nor could the low-toned swirls of string (viola maybe?). Yet as the song proceeds, its '70s California lilt bubbles up from underneath, coloring, but not overwhelming the essential texture of the song.

In a year that has seen lots of bands stretching the boundaries of traditional folk -- Espers with its VU drone, Feathers with its trippy communal vocals and Tunng with its electronic embellishments -- Apron Strings seems content to stick with the basics. Not all folk has to be "new". Not all songs have to mess with the formula. This is a very warm, solid outing from a talented group of folks, and it'll feel just right on a lazy Sunday afternoon.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.