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The Guthries | s/t (Circus 65)
Despite leaving the respected Brobdingnagian label and the subsequent departure of a key member of the band, rather than having an unsettling effect on the band's momentum and creativity, the opposite appears to be the case. Matt Mays was undoubtedly an influential contributor to the band's first album, 'Off Windmill', one of 2000's finest, but his departure following comparatively minor contributions to the band's self-titled follow-up last year doesn't appear to have had any discernibly negative impact. Quite the contrary in fact, with two pairs of siblings amongst The Guthries make-up ?? Brian and Dale Murray and Gabrielle and Ruth Minnikin - augmented by Serge Samson, there's probably a stronger bond than most bands - although I'll concede that sibling rivalry might just have easily been a divisive influence. Drawing on that oft-used footballing aphorism, The Guthries have 'strength in depth' and despite the loss of Matt Mays, by allowing Gabe Minnikin a more expansive role, they've unearthed a new songwriter; one with both a refreshing new perspective and an astonishing voice to boot. Imagine Lee Hazlewood on Mogadon. Wonderful! The Guthries are, more often than not, tagged as alt.country, but that is really an over-simplification and, whilst there's an undeniable country lilt to much of their material (they employ much of the traditional instrumentation associated with the genre ?? pedal steel, mandolin and fiddle for example), the arrangements, performances and sheer joie de vivre of these songs deserve wider recognition than such pigeon -holing usually allows. Able to call on a multitude of guests to flesh out the arrangements - with brass and strings for example - something new seems revealed each time you play the album. With no less than three vocalist-songwriters ?? Gabe Minnikin's deep twang, irresistible on the fun, honky-tonk foot tapper Willin' and Able, or on Pistol Whipped, on which he sings so slowly he is in danger of slipping into reverse. Laid back(wards) perhaps? Sister Ruth's voice, meanwhile, similar at times to that of Laura Cantrell, evokes warmth, charm and hints of naivety. Her voice is captivating on the beautiful Careful Love and on the gentle old-timey, banjo-led I Will Forget. Dale Murray perhaps, has the least distinctive voice of the three singers in the band, but that's no major criticism. He proffers some equally strong material and the opening song of the set, Terrible Thing makes it clear straightaway that The Guthries are very much an ensemble. Rather than the work of three disparate individuals (not forgetting the multi-instrumental contributions of fellow members Brian Murray and Serge Samson) this is a collective effort and in contrast to the title of the opening track, this second effort from The Guthries is actually a most wonderful thing indeed.

Geraint Jones
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002

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