Artist: The Coal Porters
Album: No. 6
Label: Prima Records Ltd.
Release Date: 09/16/2016
The Coal Porters have always been something of an anachronism. For starters, they’re a bluegrass band based in London, led by an American expat, Sid Griffin. That’s unlikely enough, but the fact that their new album is dubbed No. 6 brings other curiosities into question. For example, what about the other three albums and two EPs that they’ve released over the course of their 25 year career? That ought to have made this at least No. 11. Likewise, the title of the album’s second track is inadvertently identified as “Shelter From the Storm” on the cover, reference to a Dylan song as opposed to an original composition named “Save Me From the Storm,” as it’s correctly listed in the booklet.
Hmmm… It seems a bit baffling, even at the outset. Yet despite that ambiguity, there’s no denying the Coal Porters’ commitment to purpose. Griffin, a veteran of the pioneering ‘80s Americana outfit the Long Ryders, was well versed in this particular style of music long before he relocated to London, in addition to having authored various tomes on Dylan and the roots of America’s seminal country rock sound. Earlier Coal Porters efforts have name-dropped Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons and David Crosby, making no mistake about where their influences lie. And while No. 6 shows no hesitancy about stretching their boundaries — “The Day the Last Ramone Died” hails the pioneering punk rock combo mentioned in the title, just as a catchy cover of the Only Ones’ otherwise obscure “Another Girl – Another Planet” shows a willingness to look outside the genre — the band’s partiality to bluegrass never wanes. A sprightly instrumental offering, “Chopping the Garlic” and the rousing “Train No. 10-0-5” reaffirm that notion, just as singer/diddler Kerenza Peacock’s antebellum-sounding song “Play a Tune” keeps a traditional element intact.
The most telling track overall comes in the form of “Salad Days,” Griffin’s apparent lament for the failure of the Long Ryders to achieve the wider fame they originally envisioned. “No more gigging with McGuinn,” he muses woefully. Hopefully, that fate won’t follow the Coal Porters, even if their command of the facts often seems somewhat sketchy.