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DIZRAELI: Engurland (City Shanties) – 2009 – Album review

Rating: ★★★★½

If you’re serious about something, if you really love it…you’ve got to be able to allow the piss to be taken out of it. Otherwise you’re a fanatic and everyone knows how those humourless bastards roll. Thus, given the overriding folk inflections to Dizraeli a.k.a. Rowan Sawday’s full-length debut, he may have to put up with Engurland (City Shanties) being referred to as ‘hippy-hop,’ by some – for this is less block party than midsummer revels. Still, if something’s good you can only take the piss for so long and this is pretty damn good. For one thing, you are unlikely to have heard anything quite like the way Engurland… takes an urban musical genre that originated in the Bronx and make it sound as English as Punch & Judy shows – although more the kind of Punch & Judy show you get in Russell Hoban’s post-apocalyptic novel Riddley Walker than any other kind.
Homeward Bound (On The Overground) opens with the sound of waves over which echo slightly ominous close vocal harmonies. Nimble-fingered acoustic guitar picking appears and ushers in an unmistakeably hip-hop beat, scratching and vocal loops about ‘Victoria Sponges.’ It shouldn’t work but it does. In The Garden showcases Dizraeli’s ear for an almost Sergeant Pepper-era psychedelic-folk tune but then morphs almost immediately into beats and rhymes. And that’s the thing about Dizraeli. It’s not just that he has a distinctive slightly hoarse rapping voice with the ghost of a burr but that he can also carry a tune with ease – witness his range on this very song – as well as rustling up beautiful acoustic instrumentals. On the track Engurland he pulls off the feat of critically analysing UK culture (“Silly thoughts tell a stranger he’s a prick/ Receive a hit, lips and teeth are split/ But it isn’t a party unless you bleed a bit”), which performs the neat trick of using a football chant’s tune to carry the ironic chorus, retaining the infectiousness of the chant itself while rendering it melodic as opposed to drunken and thuggish. I wasn’t so keen on second single Bomb Tesco which is less the rage against the machine than a slightly wordy subverting-the-deli-counter slice of whimsy but it’s succeeded in any case by the beauty of Take Me Dancing, a ‘proper’ song with singing and everything where Dizraeli is joined on vox by the very capable Cate Ferris.
The only real misstep for me on the whole album is It Won’t Be long. I’ve come to regard this as the ‘Sting’ song and have to skip the ‘de-de-de-dah-do-dah-de’ bits (surely a moment of madness on Sawday’s part) which I can only attribute to the excessive quaffing of home-brewed scrumpy. Happily, once again it’s successor is a thing of beauty and this time it’s the acoustic guitar instrumental of Reach In which precedes what was the album’s debut single (and eulogy to old tramps), the stomping blues-riff based and really rather good Reach Out.
If this gets heard by the mainstream press no doubt lazy comparisons will be made with The Streets, though if such lazy comparisons encourage more punters to listen that will be no bad thing. A genuine original, Engurland successfully combines the urban and the rural in a way you wish town planners and architects would and quite simply for that reason alone nobody beats the Diz.
(Out now)

Listen to Dizraeli – Engurland (City Shanties)

Dizraeli – Myspace


DIZRAELI: Engurland (City Shanties) – 2009 – LP Update

(PRESS RELEASE) Having made his name on stages around the world as frontman for the dub-hiphop band Bad Science, and picked up a string of awards as a slam poet (including BBC Radio 4 National Poetry Slam Winner and Farrago UK Slam Champion), rapper, singer and multi-instrumentalist Dizraeli has gone solo to craft his very own album. He says, “Hiphop is folk music for the modern age; real stories of ordinary people, spoken in their own voices. It’s music that takes part in our everyday conversations, and isn’t afraid to name names. I love that”.

‘Engurland (City Shanties)’, Dizraeli’s debut, makes the link between the old folk and the new, drawing on sea shanties, gospel and blues to create a form of hiphop that speaks for the streets and the valleys in equal measures. Journey with Dizraeli through the aisles of Tesco and the factory corridors, from the vomit-slicked Bristol backstreets to the grey pebbles of Brighton beach. This is 21st century England, told through stories of love and grief and defiance. Musically, the album echoes the drunken sway of Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs and the grit of Jay Dee’s production; it’s full of the sounds of Engurland – slamming doors and traffic whooshing, children’s voices and shopping-trolley rivers, as well as features from some of the most exciting emerging singers and instrumentalists around.

‘Reach Out’, the first single from the album, follows two lonely old men, on separate journeys through the rain-stricken twilight. It’s set to a stomping blues backbeat, and features the gorgeous harmonies of Cate Ferris, better known as backing singer for Martha Tilston. ‘Reach out’ is available now for free download on www.dizraeli.com, as well as on iTunes, Amazon, Amie St and other melodic webspots.

‘Engurland (City Shanties)’ will be released at the end of September, followed by a tour in late October / early November, for which Dizraeli will be joined by a blindingly gifted set of musicians on double bass, beatbox, cuts, accordion and strings. Gigs at London’s Cargo, Bristol, Brighton, Bath and the Eden Project in Cornwall have already been confirmed. In the meantime, keep your ears peeled for ‘Bomb Tesco’, the next single, which will emerge alongside a guerrilla video sometime in the next fortnight…

Listen to Dizraeli – Reach Out

Dizraeli – Myspace