Folk duo Gilmore & Roberts are looking to change things up with their new album Conflict Tourism. As the title suggests, this one focuses on the internal struggle that marks most human experiences. Here the conflict is confined to the protagonist of their narrative, but it appears that the central theme extends further – to Gilmore & Roberts themselves.
Moving away from traditional folk influences on a number of tracks, the record feels torn between a desire to move into new territory and the run to safety in celtic inspired ditties. Opening track Cecilia is a great start with huge promise; grounded in acoustic guitar and mandolin but backed up by sparse industrial beats there is a roots and blues feel, and something like alt-folk. Striding so confidently into the record, it’s a shame that the following ceilidh style Jack O’ Lantern should be so recognisable in melody and instrumentation. It’s a well written and well produced track, Jamie Roberts’ voice carries this style fantastically, but this is definitely all out folk.
Gilmore’s sweet vocal may be folk friendly, but is completely well suited to the more experimental numbers; not quite hitting the purity of a Sandy Denny, there’s a modern edge that works particularly well up against Robert’s timbre. Less successful perhaps on Stumble On The Seam, the sweetness to her tone isn’t quite enough to carry the power riffs and rock anthem beat. But later track Warmonger has great vocal interplay with a refrain that calls on 80’s protest tracks. Despite really good percussive backing and handclaps, lyrically I’m not sure that this one delivers completely on the theme. Though the title Conflict Tourism suggests a certain confrontation, Warmonger only touches on this kind of commentary which doesn’t seem to sit anywhere else on the album.
Conflict Tourism does lack a certain cohesion; trying to balance the more interesting songs against familiar folk numbers like Balance / Imbalance and the slightly disappointing finish Ghost Of A Ring, just leaves those moments feeling a touch lacklustre. Less predictable, Peggy Airey is complete to a shade with finger blur fiddling and celtic, percussive rolls but the vocal line weaves a different story to the one you expect. This style fits well with stronger tracks like Warmonger as well, but sadly this is the only instance where Gilmore & Roberts really nail the marriage between the two.
Skirting between a familiar folk record and something with the freshness of experimentation, you really want Gilmore & Roberts to grasp the new with both hands on Conflict Tourism. Ironically it is the unsuccessful conflicting of styles that lets this one down, but there is more than enough promise here if they can resolve to run with it.