Oysterband, Ways of Holding on (Waiting for
the Sun) (EP)
(Running Man, 2000)

The Oyster lads are at it again, giving us tantalizing glimpses of their activities, re-formulating songs as the whim takes them or the collaborator appears. This time it's Emma Härdelin, of Garmana and Triakel, performing "Ways of Holding on (Waiting for the Sun)" as a duet with John Jones. This song, originally released on the full length album Here I stand, describes the feeling many of us in northern climes will have at the end of February. Where I'm from, it's hard to remember the sun-induced delirium of summer when the dark days pull you down, and it seems as if nothing will ever replace the sheer dreariness of existence. I don't know if listening to this song would help -- it begins with the words: "The dark days of winter, the tunnel never ends..." but I can relate.

Härdelin's clear yet otherworldy voice really makes the song for me. Of course, I'm hopelessly enamoured of the Oysterband and find John Jones voice to be one of the most enchanting out there. Oysterband offerings get heavy rotation on what passes for my stereo.

The remaining songs are also dark, ranging from the album mix of "Ways of Holding On" and the political diatribe "On the Edge," to the suicide commentary "Someone You might have Been." This last song uses Telfer's absolutely mournful fiddle, Chopper's cello, and Lee's simple, staccato drum kit to create a tense backdrop for Jones' vocal offering of a last trip to that spring in the woods.

The lads have a well deserved reputation as a faster-harder-louder folk group drawing on diverse British Isles traditions, with wild partying tunes and angry politics at almost every turn. I have often loved their interpretations of traditional material, and the way they can invigorate an old song, making it seem very fresh and in the moment. This EP shows that the political can give way to the personal, and offers up the valley that inevitably follows the mountain top using some of their better original material from the last album.

And speaking of albums, when is the next one appearing? It's one thing to get a little fix, but I could use a full dose of new material...

[Kim Bates]