Burlap to Cashmere Freedom Souls. Burlap’s latest Pledge-funded offering ends with a real fizz. They are feeling their way towards added textures, so that the sound remains fresh and unpredictable, while retaining that Mediterranean character that keeps us coming back to them.

Time: 10 Tracks / 40 mins

Getting to know a new Burlap album can be frustrating. At first hearing, the songs have plenty of promise, but often feel a little unfinished. Then, on subsequent airings, the gaps between these promising moments shrink, leaving a fairly solid – if somewhat short – release.

The two main sounds that define the band are Steven Delopoulos’s gritty, slightly life-worn vocals and his cousin John Philippidis’s vibrant, Greek-inspired guitar work. With Freedom Souls, they have added extra styles (as well as removing any trace of the Simon and Garfunkel vibe that stole the spotlight on their last release).

They reach their apex at the end, when they improvise around “Dialing God,” except that the somewhat downbeat vocal track bears no relation to the fizz and life that pours through its glorious instrumental counterpart. With a heady mix of Balkan dance and Greek bouzouki style guitar work, this is the only piece that really captures that live sound, which is when the band is at its best.

The next nearest is “The Great I Am,” a song of turning away from selfishness (the ‘great I was’) towards God. This is classic Burlap and could have come from the career-defining Live at the Bitter End release. It again has an energetic Philippidis solo and a whole batch of ‘lai-lai-lai’s.

“Agape Mou” reprises the lai-lai-lais and gives Philippidis space for some delicate fretboard work with his flamenco-coloured Mediterranean guitar. There’s a beautiful crispness to the sound captured on this disc, not just on the guitar strings, but also in the percussion, whether shaken or brushed, and some spare, nuanced keys.

Besides these cuts, which are how we love to hear the band, most tracks have something different to mark them out. “Tonilou,” graced with some sweeping organ, is about keeping the flame burning, and is as near as they come to conventional rock. “Passover” is a straightforward, simple success. A ballad about seeking forgiveness, it is tender, engaging and honest. It knows how to be shade without sacrificing any of their appeal. “River in my Head” branches off into new country (and if you are scratching your head when listening to it, or pausing the track to see where you expect the tune to go, those first two lines in the verse are reminding you of The Beatles’ “Penny Lane”).

One or two elements don’t quite come off. If the whole album was like the title track, it would be somewhat flat. Given over to a minor key soul mood, laced with wandering synths, this one is completely off their normal map. The fascinating “Brain Fog,” built around a fairly staccato set of guitar and keys stabs and punctuated by some ambient synth noises, has oceans of character, but will not be for everyone.

One or two tracks have both highs and lows within them. Alongside the many strengths of “The Great I Am,” the repetition of the title line can get wearing; and similarly, “16 Miles” has enough energy and poppiness to overcome the repetition and weak verse melody.

So the band is branching out, feeling its way towards added textures, so that the sound remains fresh and unpredictable, while retaining that Mediterranean character that keeps us coming back to them. I just wish that they would put even more of the explosive guitar work in to capture the live atmosphere – but the web site talks of another Bitter End show last year being recorded, so there could be another great release on the way?


Derek Walker

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