It has been four years, but Dominion is finally here as the eagerly awaited sequel to Melrose Quartet’s debut, 2013’s Fifty Verses. That is not to say that the four-piece have not been busy since then, Jess (vocals, violin) and Richard (vocals, melodeon) Arrowsmith remain a popular booking for folk clubs up and down the country, James Fagan (vocals, guitar, bouzouki, mandolin) has recently launched a new act The James Brothers, and Nancy Kerr’s (vocals, violin) solo band has seen her win BBC Radio 2 singer of the year in 2015.
Dominion offers exquisite vocal harmonies from the four accomplished singers right from the acapella opening of “Mariah’s Gone”, before the album bursts into life with “Dominion of the Sword”. and the second track truly is a tour-de-force and an instant favourite, with aggressive instrumentation and powerful anti-war lyrics that see traditional verses wind together well with the band’s own lyrics; Fagan starts off the singing with the others gradually joining in for an explosive climax.
The mood shifts slightly here, with a merrier tune set that sees us nicely into a Nancy Kerr original, “Hand Me Down”. It is recognisable as Kerr’s songwriting, though different enough from her solo material to fit in well on this album. This is followed up by “Ware Out Mother”, a familiar acapella piece which, like a lot of the Melrose Quartet catalogue as I remember from the album preview show, is heard quite frequently in pubs around Sheffield. Jess Arrowsmith provides an interesting take on post-feminism next with “Anthem Of A Working Mum”, which discusses the distinction between the ability to do anything you want and the need to do everything you want.
“Rise No More” shows an even larger range of instrumentation, as the Quartet switch from acapella to accompanied, without relenting in the speed of their delivery. “Davy Cross” slows the album down again with a pleasant singalong song which highlights, by its placement, that the band thought well about the running order so as to not let the album sound like too much of the same thing. Of the three tune sets played so far, the one opened by “The Gallery” is the most interesting, returning back to the aggressive fast-paced playing from earlier in the album. It also showcases the “one, two, three, four,” introduction renowned for annoying radio presenters all over the country. It is also nice to hear a new version of Paul Metsers’ “Good Intentions” next.
As the album comes to a close, “Rosslyn Castle” is a stand out. The slow delivery of the melody on the melodeon is reminiscent of the Spiers & Boden version, but it switches to a pleasant violin duet with a light chord accompaniment on the guitar. It makes for a good build up to the end of the album, before another Jess Arrowsmith original, “Raise Your Voice”. It might seem like a slightly clichéd way to end an album, a song about singing together (and one that definitely should be sung more at the end of an evening in the pub), but perhaps that is because, like so much else on Melrose Quartet’s new album, it works.