With an ever-changing lineup of backing musicians supporting a project like Sam Kelly and Tanya Brittain’s aspirational endeavour, The Changing Room, one can never quite be sure what to expect as an audience. However, 'Caradon Hill', certainly makes an impact as an opening track to remember, with just the right fusion of folk and rock to blend nicely with Kelly’s powerful voice and important lyrics. 'Zephaniah Job' continues the album well, with a nice guitar-heavy sound that seems to be becoming rarer and rarer in the “traditional” folk scene, and its bouncing rhythm works nicely to keep the listener guessing on a first listen, with enough interesting elements in the background (particularly Jamie Francis’ banjo playing) to make me want to come back for at least a second. We are only two songs in to an album by a band that I admittedly knew very little about before, but I am already impressed, and excited to hear what the rest of the album holds.
The press release notes read a quote from Brittain that: “(this album) includes more songs about our (West Country) heritage such as mining and fishing,” and this topic seems very poignant in the third song, 'The Greyhound'. With folk titans like Show of Hands and Seth Lakeman already drawing very heavily on similar areas throughout most of their catalogue, it seems rather a marvel that The Changing Room can reinvent it, but in the wake of their clearly unique approach such a feat sounds like such a natural progression; that is only a good thing. Even if a lot of it does sound like “doom and gloom”, as Kelly jokes in the notes, serious topics are tackled maturely, particularly as we are reminded in 'Bal Maiden’s Waltz' that others are generally left Picking up the Pieces.
The Changing Room also seem to just naturally know when to change the pace of an album too, as 'Gwrello Glaw' masterfully demonstrates. Kelly seems to be in his element here: some of the most beautiful vocal lines we have heard so far are sung fantastically, and that doubles up in its impressiveness when one considers that the entire song is sung in Cornish Gaelic! We are not given long to reflect on the ballad though, as 'The Cinder Track' quickly bursts into life with more Americana-esque banjo playing complimenting fast, bass-y, and chuggy guitar chords well.
'Tie ‘Em Up', three tracks later, is the next one that really grabs my attention after a slightly light-hearted lull. The classic folk-rock sound is back, reminiscent of some of the more raucous Fairport Convention songs but with the added uncompromising sound that we were introduced to earlier in the album. As we progress through the musical journey, it is nice to begin seeing the accordion get the limelight for a few moments as the powerful guitar playing recedes briefly into the background; such moments really help for the musical diversity of the album, I only wish that there were more of them.
'We Will Remember Them' then comes in slightly unexpectedly, openly contrasting with the previous piece, as a slow ballad that captivates my attention from the opening acapella verse before the piano comes in as a beautiful accompaniment that really hammers the message of the song down well. I am slightly confused as to why it is not included in the sleeve notes like every other song on the album is, though.
Maybe 'It’s All Downhill From Here', but at least they had the good sense to put it as the last track on the album (and I know I surely can’t be the first reviewer to make a similar joke), but whilst the album finishes on a slightly dated-sounding singalong song that serves, mostly, as a nice bit of comic relief from the gloominess of the earlier songs, it also cements the band as one that do not stick to a single style. I could not point to any single song on this album to a friend and say “this is what The Changing Room sound like”, and that is something I rather like. I could not even name my favourites, as every song from the first six at least deserves an equal spot. What I can name, on the other hand, is an album that goes out of its way to delight the listener at every turn – and that is Picking up the Pieces by The Changing Room, and you can colour me impressed at how much I enjoyed listening to it.