Their live set in Anstruther was so good that I was looking forward to the record with a measure of both anticipation and trepidation. The anticipation is easily explained, the trepidation was based on a fear that they couldn’t live up to the enjoyment of the gig.
The good news is that some of the songs are recognisable from that show – which at one listen almost a year and a half ago is a helluva recommendation. And whilst ‘Sideshow’ doesn’t work as a recreation of that Anstruther show, it’s still a great record.
Most of the songs originate from the Burnsong workshop a few years back when a group of songwriters from different genres were brought together to write. As a consequence this isn’t the most cohesive set of songs you’ll ever hear, with genre hopping a given.
One of the advantages of the varied styles on the record is that depending on different songs can be your favourites depending on your mood and it also works because there are elements which hold things together. The proliferation of vocalists results in the songs featuring at least a couple of leads with the others contributing attractive multi-part harmonies on any given song.
There are also some great songs – the opening ‘Since We’ve Fallen Out’ features a duet between Kenny Anderson and Karine Polwart and builds nicely from its accordion lament intro. ‘Troubles’ meanwhile is a neat littlepop song with Emma Pollock’s vocals playing off a simple keyboard melody.
The party atmosphere is best re-created on the two songs that MC Soom T takes lead vocals on, ‘Send The Kids To War’, which owes a fair degree to the sub-continent and the reggae tinged ‘What Is Life’.
Best of all though, probably, is the lovely closing track ‘Helpless To Turn’ which starts with Polwart singing against a lone piano backing before building gradually to its conclusion with the addition of various vocalists along the way.
‘Side Show’ is a welcome addition to the run of strong records in the second half of the year. (8/10)
A short documentary about the band:
Buy ‘Side Show’ here.