Essex band The Lucky Strikes are a persistent bunch stubbornly maintaining a liking for albums based around a theme (or as we used to call them, concept albums). Their two previous releases, The Chronicles of Solomon Quick and Gabriel, Forgive My 22 Sins (reviewed here) were set in America but for this, their fourth release, they delve into the backwaters and history of their homeland, the Thames Estuary, Southend and Canvey Island. Now for me these names have for years conjured up nothing more than Eddie and the Hot Rods, The Kursaal Flyers and Dr. Feelgood with images provided by Julian Temple’s Oil City Confidential which led me to believe that the area was for the most part a dilapidated industrial wasteland, indeed Essex was once called ‘the dustbin of London’ by Tory James Wentworth Day. However the recent release of The Lucky Strikes’ front man, Mathew Boulter’s solo disc, The Water and The Wave led me to look more closely at the area and the discovery of a fine blog, Caught By The River offered a different picture of an area steeped in natural history and a wild beauty. With The Thames spilling into the North Sea there’s a deep maritime history and it’s this along with the more recent rock’n’roll connections that The Lucky strikes attempt to capture on The Exile and The Sea.
Boulter’s album is a restrained affair that flowed like a stream, for the most part smooth and unruffled. The Exile and The Sea is a more rambunctious beast reflecting the turbulent events recounted within which include a vivid description of Southend pier on fire in 2005 on The Beast Burnt Down and the 19th Century tale of a man press ganged into the navy on Goldspring. Goldspring has a traditional feel to it especially in the vocals with the band joining in on a lusty chorus however it’s cloaked in a muscular organ draped beat which could have been delivered by the E Street Band. A rasping fiddle flits in sounding for all the world as if Dave Swarbrick was present and The Lucky Strikes sound as if they’ve picked up where classic Fairport Convention left off around 1973. This is perhaps the reason why The Exile and The Sea succeeds where Gabriel, Forgive My 22 Sins partially failed as the band are more comfortable with their Anglo centric heritage despite their love for and aptitude in delivering a more American sound. The Devil Knows Yourself develops this further moving more into folk rock mode with jangling mandolin and accordion joining in while the opening song, To Be King marries the folk and rock styles to become almost anthemic and will surely beg comparisons with Mike Scott’s Waterboys as will the dynamic New Avalon.
The title song and Vincent are more restrained with Boulter’s fragile voice buttressed by shimmering guitars and percussion somewhat like the sun reflected off of the sea surface with the latter picking up pace as it progresses with some fine guitar work from Boulter. Top of the class however is Ghost and the Actress which has a woozy waltz time rhythm and builds to a tremendous climax as it tells of the ghosts that inhabit the now closed Grand Hotel in Southend, a venue that hosted the infamous Essex bands mentioned previously.
The Exile and The Sea is a fine amalgamation of Anglo centric folk traditions with blustering American roots rock in the manner of Springsteen and The Band and with some luck the likes of New Avalon should be spreading across the airwaves in the very near future.