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Conflict Tourism – Gilmore & Roberts Review

Conflict Tourism – Gilmore & Roberts Review

Released: September 2015

“Conflict is universal”, states Katrina Gilmore, one half of folk duo Gilmore & Roberts (we’ll leave you to figure out which). Her fourth album with Jamie Roberts aims to explore the nature of conflict, serving as a tour guide for the physical, intellectual and personal conflicts experienced by everyone, not least the artist and musician. Conflict Tourism features plenty of conflict, but mainly a positive type: the type that forces different sounds and genres to fuse together, as traditional folk intertwines with electric guitars and African vibes.

The two musicians take it in turns when it comes to singing duties, and both bring a different aspect to the music as a result. Gilmore has the honour of opening the album, her natural tones completely free of pretence and beautifully melodic as she asserts her style on the marvellously dramatic Cecilia. Though her vocal performance is truly special, the instrumental arrangement seems to have something missing. This is a theme that remains present throughout the album, as tracks similar to the LP’s opener, such as Stumble on the Seam and Peggy Airey, tend to sound like acoustic versions of bigger, more expansive and ultimately better songs.

Nonetheless the two singers make easy work of amping up tracks with their own vocal performances, despite perhaps feeling constrained by the acoustically driven genre to which they belong. Mr Roberts has a voice not unlike his partner, soft, melodic, and particularly on Jack O Lantern, a hauntingly eerie Old English recreation of the mysterious nature of Halloween, a perfect match for hers. With flawlessly written and expertly timed harmonies the duo showcases a true synergy, a synchronicity that can only come with having played music together for as long as these two have. They make sure the lead singer is just that, not allowing for dual vocals to clash with each other, and masterfully arranging all backing vocals and instruments in a way that supports the enchanting melodies that lead the way.

There are some great musical flourishes that help the band to deviate from the traditional indie-folk sound (if such a thing can be deemed to exist), particularly on Warmonger, which serves as an enthralling penultimate track as it delves deep into melodies from other continents, South America and Africa can certainly be heard lingering in the distance. Here Gilmore & Roberts make their most explicit reference to the ‘conflict’ they have been addressing all throughout the record, as they criticise the string-pullers of both global and personal warfare: “You think you’re safe behind the lines / As you satisfy your hunger”. This is the album’s most driven, energetic track, and feels like its most complete. The arrangement is perfectly executed and nothing important is held back.

Despite initially feeling like it is being held at knifepoint by folk convention, Conflict Tourism eventually proves to be a multi textured piece with plenty of stylistic variety. Its lyrics are amongst Gilmore & Roberts’ most ambitious yet, and their impassioned vocal performances amidst some experimental arrangements make for a thrilling, thought-provoking record. Whether you are a folk fan or not, there’s bound to be something on here that will win you over.


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