Me and My Friends today release their second album Look Up on Split Shift Records. Playing an infectious blend of Soul, Lover’s Rock, Ghanaian highlife, Jamaican roots and Afro-Brazilian folk, the quintet’s sound is timeless, energetic and instantly recognizable. Look Up draws heavily on early 70s acoustic soul, as well as the modal ‘Ethiopiques’ of Mulatu Astatke and the minimalism of the Penguin Café Orchestra.
Built around songwriter Nick Rasle’s elegant voice and West African fingerpicking guitar style, the Cello of Emma Coleman weaves a patchwork of influences together. Opening with a bright guitar and tenor chorales Look Up immediately hooks you into its Highlife charm. More traditional folk also snakes through these captivating rhythms as Another Lifetime bounces us through a tale of decaying friendship and neglected opportunity.
You’re then hooked in by handclaps and a wonderfully weaving cello melody on single release Higher Than The Sun. As a volley of instruments dance and joust around this yearning to bottle the spark. Title track Look Up is a vivid paternoster guitar riff around which the bass of James Grunwell, who also produced Look Up, and Coleman’s cello supply the groove. This instrumental sails you into choppy waters, before guiding back into the sun drenched straights and soulful groove of Promise Me. Which would not be out of place on a Shuggie Otis joint. It drifts into some delightful Lovers Rock via an instrumental tour de force. While it’s not the most immediately catchy track on the record, Promise Me feels like a centerpiece of the album.
The funky, chop of the guitar on Gently Blinded has a Sly Stone jazzy sound. But single release You Read My Mind immediately takes you in the wake of its looping, joyous riff, plucked cello and inescapable vocal hook.
“We had been toying with using plucked cello as a lead line for a while, as we felt it’s such an underused texture – more melodic than the double bass, and more meaty than the violin or viola. As we played the groove, more and more ideas kept coming to Emma, so we decided to make it the focus for the track, and place it center-stage.”
Good Life is a dark, rumbling reggae shanty. Telling the tale of those escaping persecution across the perilous seas. Working in a volunteer kitchen on the Greek island of Lesbos at the height of the refugee crisis in 2016, Rasle draws upon the stories of hope, determination and the cycle of persecution. Calling for empathy and understanding in an increasingly intolerant society.
All This I Know begins with a riff that I would put up there with any of the greats Riffsmiths. The track soon opens up to a tune of emotional withdrawal that’s more overt in its folk heartbeat and reminds me of a Bless The Weather John Martyn. The album ends with the sundrenched, wave-lapped surf ballad Sometime. Lulling you out of an album that’s a pure joy. It’s also very deceptive in that Me and My Friends seem to have made an album that fits every mood and every (most) listening situation. Look Up is a melting pot that delivers a smooth cocktail of folk, soul and jazz. Spiced with the uplifting rhythms of Highlife. One you don’t want to miss.
Look Up is out on Split Shift now and can be ordered here.
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