I have to declare a personal interest in UFQ (the Urban Folk Quartet) before I begin this review: over the years I have seen this band several times, and each time I have been more impressed than the last. This group just goes from strength to strength, shoring up their previous album successes of ‘UFQ Live II’ and ‘Off the Beaten Tracks’ with live performances fizzing with energy, passion and fun. At their fingertips folk music simply comes alive, and each time I have seen them perform the audience around me were on their feet and dancing by pretty much the first song. So I had high hopes for their most recent album ‘The Escape’- and I was not left disappointed. The intensity, virtuosity and flair so prevalent in their live shows have been condensed down into a powerful collection of tracks totalling only 41 minutes- and boy, do they make each of those minutes count.
When you look at the pedigree of UFQ, it is no surprise that ‘The Escape’ has such a professional, polished feel about it. Travelling all around the world, this group has played ‘from secluded coves to 30,000 capacity festival fields’, making impressions everywhere with their storming tunes and stunning musicianship. The individual makeup of the group is equally as impressive: Galician fiddler Paloma Trigas has played with various folk heroes from The Chieftans to Altan, whilst English fiddler Joe Broughton brings an astonishing flair and skill that perfectly matches the playing of Trigas. On many tracks in this album, such as the breathlessly fast paced ‘Upward Spiral / Brink’, the two instruments weave and interplay to create a fiery, forceful melody. This is accompanied throughout by the multitalented Dan Walsh, playing guitar, mandolin and oud, whose steady, well balanced accompaniment gives new depths to the music. Alongside this is the multitalented percussionist and cajonero Tom Chapman, creating extraordinary rhythms and beats that wind themselves around the music and underpin the furiously fast tunes, holding many of the tracks together.
In a departure from their earlier, more instrumental sets, ‘The Escape’ holds a near-equal balance of songs and tunes- a choice that suits the musical breadth of UFQ. The use of backing vocals and subtle instrumental patterns on the fiddles and guitar help to give the songs a fuller, weightier feel, and the voices of both Trigas and Walsh brilliantly capture the energy and power of many of the lyrics. A few of the songs have a distinctly American feeling about them- ‘Boat up the River’ and ‘500 Miles’ are both traditional songs from across the Atlantic, reinterpreted in UFQ’s uniquely energetic style. But I have come to expect nothing less from a band as accomplished and impressive as UFQ: their ability to bring any form of music vigorously to life and to make it dance in soaring colour comes across on every track of this album. The UFQ have very, very high musical standards, and ‘The Escape’ most definitely lives up to them.