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