A lot of the press surrounding the release is stressing the involvement of the Show of Hands crew, Knightley and Beer lending their formidable talents is a huge plus, not least as it is that duo who spotted the potential of McDonald years back when he pressed a demo into their hands. Light The Evening Fire shares much with the SoH album Country Life, not a bad record to be compared to as it’s probably the best and most enduring of their career. But this isn’t SoH version 2, you can tell McDonald is bursting with talent and ideas all of his own.
The lyrics carry a real sense of despair at what Britain is becoming, from the homeless burning their dreams around an evening fire on Light The Evening Fire, to the Brexit fuelling anger at ‘foreigners’ supposedly taking our jobs whilst they are themselves exploited by rural gang masters. The sad fact is that these are fertile times for songs of rage and despair, crafting that into such a joyous album is the real skill here.
The album is co-produced by Phil Beer and McDonald, and it is a really lush recording that plays on the strengths of every musician involved. With seven credited vocalists and twenty separate instruments they certainly had a lot of layers to play with. Most of the time this works as a telling contrast to the despair and anger present in the lyrics, it can however sometimes dilute that message. Perhaps the touring line up of a trio will reveal more of that intensity.
McDonald’s brilliant compositions share space with two trad tracks; Martin Carthy’s arrangement of Bows of London and McDonald’s own arrangement of The Sweet Trinity. The former has a crackling intensity to it with harmonies set to a fiddle, the latter has a sincere joy to it, benefitting from the contrast of Phil Beer sharing harmonies. In fact McDonald is totally unselfish, with so many great singers he has utilised everyones strengths, the final track Bright Sparks in particular plays out with just their harmonies and is a spine tingling finale.
Repeated listens throw up nuances and fresh aspects, ‘lush’ really does sum it up. McDonald is a talented songwriter and performer that we are sure to hear a lot of.