Genres are a tricky bugger. As the NME attempts to create a scene whilst simultaneously handicapping it with the utterly ludicrous moniker ‘shroomadelica’, the same questions keep bugging me. Who the hell came up with ‘alt-country’ and what the hell does it really mean anyway? Laura Cantrell and Lambchop may both be lumped together in the genre but Cantrell is really just a straight country singer to these ears whilst Lampchop share little in common with the scene other than being from Nashville.
Ditto ‘Antifolk’. Sergeant Buzfuz, a.k.a. Joe Murphy, hasn’t let the fact that he hails from South Yorkshire rather than New York stop him being an integral part of the capital’s blossoming ‘Antifolk’ scene, with his monthly Blang! night at the 12 Bar attracting the cream of Stateside talent, but what makes his relatively traditional brand of folk so ‘anti’?
I’m afraid that I’m at a loss to provide any answers really. Musically, it’s mostly a polite blend of scratchy acoustic guitars and various other stringed instruments and Murphy’s voice has distinct echoes of Dylan and Drake at various points, alongside Marc Bolan and Julian Cope. It’s certainly wordy enough for a folk album. This can be ‘Fire Horse’s’ saviour and its downfall. At times sentences scramble fall over themselves in the scramble to fit into their allocated space and some of the imagery is, quite frankly, head-scratchingly odd (what exactly is a ‘Fire Horse’anyway?).
Such quibbles are soon set aside though by lines like those at the start of Untitled #2. If there’s a more powerfully poetic opening couplet this year than “Every night I get home and roll a fag; clouds of you in every drag” I look forward to hearing it. Shimmers Like Gold is a melancholic meander set to some lovely slow-building strings and A Horse To Take You is blessed with a rousing chorus and a gorgeously plucked mandolin motif, but the record’s peak is the deceptively simple-sounding Grand Scheme Of Things, where bandmate Kate Arnold’s hushed backing vocals and hammered dulcimer perfectly compliment Murphy’s Lloyd Cole-esque tones.
I might not be able to define the difference between country and alt-country or folk and anti-folk very well but I can tell you that, to paraphrase Sergeant Buzfuz’s beloved Julian Cope, ‘Fire Horse’ is a work of flawed genius.