A banjo playing Billy Bragg

Al Scorch grew up in Chicago, with its storied history of corrupt power at the top and righteous fighters and big dreamers at the bottom. From the town that gave the world characters like Studs Terkel, Upton Sinclair, and the anarchists in Bughouse Square, Scorch adds his voice to the choir with the enthusiasm and charisma of a Maxwell Street preacher. He eyes the prize of that ever-elusive promised land that’s worth scrapping for, wherever or whatever it may be. With a stentorian bullhorn of a voice, he exhorts, not with a holy book in his hand, but a banjo and guitar. He’s a messenger and a conduit, a believer that a soul-stirring song will march you forward.

Balanced on wedges of punk, old-time string band, American and European folk, and soulful balladry, Al is an entertainer, road warrior, storyteller, and one helluva musician. His second album and Bloodshot debut Circle Round the Signs is built on a sonic framework sharing an intersection with the Bad Livers’ lawless next-gen take on traditional country & bluegrass, and Black Flag’s burn-it-all-down revolt and breakneck tempos. From the train-hopping tale of ‘Pennsylvania Turnpike’ – updating steel rails to concrete ribbons – to the shout-along, late-night lament of ‘Insomnia’, the aural dexterity is thrilling.

Woody Guthrie’s ‘Slipknot’ gets a complex, Western swing cum prog-grass treatment, led by the angular fiddling of Felipe Tobar, that would make acoustic thrash godfathers Split Lip Rayfield grin demonically. And ‘Want One’ blazes down the dirt track with a Stanley Brothers fireball energy driven by Scorch’s clawhammer banjoing, and the it’s-safe-to-laugh-now adventure of meeting an intensely inebriated fan while busking across the country.

But Scorch is far more than lightning for lightning’s sake. Through 10 songs of high wire musicianship, debilitating despair, wild-eyed hope, and sharp elbowed views of social (in)justice, he deftly maintains a balance of precise touch and texture, pop catchiness and frenetic intensity.

He shows a keen ear for the Mekons’ transatlantic roots and marries it to the Avett Brothers’ big stage sound on ‘Lost At Sea’. Likewise, there is depth in the song’s lyrics during the cliffhanging, real life narrative of a best friend almost dying when the HMS Bounty replica sank in Hurricane Sandy.

A punk rock banjo-wielding John Prine or Billy Bragg, Al Scorch writes for the everyperson. Through his acrobatically poetic politics, hopeful tales of love lost (‘Love After Death’), or cathartic takes on urban chaos (‘City Lullaby’), he pens rowdy campfire stories, calls for action, and draws the epic from the ordinary.

Al Scorch & Jess McIntosh · September 2016 UK Tour

Fri 2          Kent                                  In The Woods Festival

Sat 3         Kent                                  In The Woods Festival          www.inthewoodsfestival2016.co.uk  

Sun 4        Boxmoor, Hemel Hempstead    Fishery Wharf Café                with Front Country

Mon 5        Sarratt, Herts.                     The Cock Inn

Tue 6        Retford                              Private House Concert

Wed 7       Norwich                            The Bicycle Shop

Thu 8        Bristol                               No.1 Harbourside

Fri 9          Worth Matravers, Dorset     The Square & Compass

Sat 10       Boxmoor, Hemel Hempstead    Dacorum FolkFest, Fishery Wharf Cafe

Mon 12      Liverpool                           The Caledonia

Tue 13       Harrogate                         Major Tom’s Social

Wed 14      Wakefield                         Harry’s Bar

Thu 15       Newcastle upon Tyne       Heaton Perk

Fri 16         Ilkley, West Yorkshire              The Flying Duck

Sat 17        Leeds                                The Grove Inn

Sun 18       Stranraer                          The Grapes

Tue 20       London                              The Troubadour, Earl’s Court