"Brother" by Luke Concannon and Darius Christian

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"Brother" by Luke Concannon and Darius Christian

Review

The first release from Luke Concannon since his staggering 'Ecstatic Bird In The Burning' collection came out over three years ago is now available and its name is "Brother". 

It's quite a long time really and it might be interesting (and hopefully not disrespectful) to speculate why that might be.

Well one factor is probably just how good the album is: Luke needed to follow it with material of a similar standard. Since he's produced four albums' worth of original material in twenty years, he is clearly prepared to take time & get his songs perfect. That he talks so eloquently about the craft of writing emphasises this.

I think too that he's been exploring possibilities of collaboration so as not to get stuck in a "Luke Concannon" shaped box. "Brother" is made with multi-instrumentalist Darius Christian Jones and he talks about having consulted Rory Mcleod about the songwriting art. For such an experienced & successful writer to do that shows a great sense of humility & modesty but also that desire to continually develop himself.

However apart from that perfectionism & humility, Luke is also known for his compassion & belief in humanity burying its differences. "Brother", as we'll see, concerns the Russian/Ukrainian conflict. He is though very well known for his concern over the Palestinian people & while one might expect him to write on that subject, maybe recent events are just too distressing for him to do so at the moment? (At this point, I'd really like you to spare a thought for Ace Ambrose, her family and friends as she's just heard that the last of the 25 family members in Gaza has now lost their life…..)

Against such a backdrop, words, however crafted and well meant are unlikely to change the minds of those promoting and directing war. But regardless, it has always been the role of the protest singer to sing on behalf of the silenced and to bear witness to lives which might otherwise not just be lost but consigned beyond memory and acknowledgement.

Luke's love of his fellow beings is, as it often is, tempered with outrage. This most pacific of individuals obviously set his stall out a long time ago to try to understand even the most brutal of others but not at the expense of telling the truth nor holding back censure of behaviours rather than people.

Rory advised him to put himself in the shoes of others & Luke has chosen to extend this by pointing out what would happen if ordinary soldiers on each side could employ this feat of imagination. Consequently the verses are voiced in the successive narratives of members of each set of armed forces.

Thus he sings of "..the grief of people across arbitrary borders; brothers really, fighting and killing or being killed, the absurdity of murdering each other often over ideas…" 

I suppose what he is pointing out (and one can only hope that the combatants get to hear "Brother") is that war is generally fought by sets of persons, both of whom are to greater or lesser extents being lied to. Their commonality is in fact potentially far greater than their links to those allegedly "on their side" who are encouraging them to kill & be killed.

In terms of the music, well I suppose the short answer is that the desire to mix things up & come up with something different has succeeded. Luke was once regarded as some sort of folk musician and in terms of his orientation towards a living music based upon real people then that's not changed. However "folk purists" may raise an eyebrow or two. I wonder if he'd mind?

Nizlopi were quite jazzy in some aspects of what they did & quite happy to include elements of hip-hop which they saw as a contemporary folk idiom. Luke, as previous reviews have stated, has in his solo work, broadened still further and "Brother" too has some very overt rapping sections to represent the dialogue of the fighting individuals. Somehow he & Darius manage to blend such sections into much smoother and orchestrated soul passages for the philosophical voices. That is what the collaboration has brought to the table.

The sound is the most compacted I've heard from Luke ever: there is so much going on in the soul parts and his voice is in the middle rather than on top though with a multitude of harmonies which I suppose represent the idea of engaging with armies & spotting commonality between large numbers of people. 

So there you have it: plenty of continuity in terms of the sort of thing Luke likes to write songs about, but presented in new ways to keep the message fresh. 

He's on tour in the UK  with singer Stephanie Hollenberg (aka Mrs Luke) this month & next, so you can (perhaps) find out how he manages to play "Brother" with just an acoustic guitar. Check his page for dates & any remaining ticket availability.

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