As visitors to the Recommendations section of A Closer Listen might know, I recently read Electric Eden, Rob Young’s overview of British folk (and adjacent musics). This is a chunky tome, housing a comprehensive study of work mostly from the early 1970s, with the decades either sides give a less in-depth treatment. Nonetheless, it was a bit of a surprise to see the likes of James Blackshaw and Alexander Tucker overlooked entirely, for they are surely the spiritual heirs of Jansch, Renbourn and the rest, adapting to tradition but continually pushing onward rather than weighed down with historical precedent.
A few years back, Tucker might have been tagged as ‘Freak Folk’, but there’s only a couple of instances on Third Mouth that are particularly Freak-ish, notably the skronky sax of Karl Brummer on “Amon Hen”. In fact, Thrill Jockey are boldly describing Tucker as ‘avant pop’ in their release notes, which is probably a step too far in the other direction. Otherwise, Tucker is more than happy to use unusual instrumentation – mostly handled by Æthenor’s Daniel O’Sullivan – but tucked out of the way, subtly illuminating his songs rather than stomping all over them. Tucker relies on his croon perhaps a little too much, in truth, for his voice comes over as an instrument he’s still not entirely comfortable with. The vocals of Frances Morgan soften the tone on the tracks she guests on; arguably the strongest track here, the closing “Rh” features the voices of both Morgan and O’Sullivan over a more electronic arrangement than we’re used to with Tucker – this fresh arrangement and more choral approach might indicate a direction for the future.
In the meantime, there’s the rest of Third Mouth to enjoy. The subtleties take some drawing out, which is a good thing; repeated plays keep throwing up new and interesting dimensions to the songs, whether it be the multi-sectioned “The Glass Axe” or the brief “Sitting In A Bardo Pond”, which acts as the tale of the band’s influence upon a younger Tucker. Given his notes on the album, it seems Third Mouth is Tucker’s most personal work to date, with songs referencing both his parents – the title track stems from his mother’s belief in speaking in tongues – as well as other inspirations, from the every day to the supernatural. Arguably it is the song’s subjects that give Tucker’s writing that little bit extra to connect to the listener; he has developed his song craft to the extent where can be confidently direct. Perhaps Tucker’s omission from Electric Eden was understandable as it’s difficult to assess an artist while they are still working and Young may have felt that Tucker’s impact is not yet quantifiable, that he is still evolving. Third Mouth should go someway to clarifying matters – that Alexander Tucker is making some of the finest music in Britain today. (Jeremy Bye)