Album review: MEDICINE HEAD – Warriors Of Love

Pete Feenstra chatted to John Fiddler in September 2021 playing tracks from the new album ‘Warriors Of Love’.

Medicine Head - Warriors of Love

Living Room Records [Release date 03.09.21]

‘Warriors of Love’ is a career high for Medicine Head founder member, British Lions and Box of Frog main man John Fiddler.

And while the original Medicine Head featured Fiddler and Pete Hope Evans, the new band is 100 per cent John Fiddler plus some significant guests.

It’s a contemporary roots-rock album, full of strong song craft, sterling vocals and an intuitive production that moves from lo-fi to moments of resonant sonic clarity as befits the songs concerned.

‘Warriors Of Love’ finds Fiddler honing a rich vein of material that is rooted in the blues but exploratory enough to embrace Americana.

They say what goes round, comes round, and having seen off punk, new wave, grunge, corporate rock and rap, the wheel has turned full circle for Fiddler.  His role as a heartfelt singer songwriter and master of the repeated hook perfectly fits the contemporary roots rock scene.

‘Warriors Of Love’ is a stripped down release with studio embellishments.  It’s a timely release with no little sense of irony, because in many respects Medicine Head were years ahead of their time.

Their ‘New Bottle Old Medicine’ debut album for example was the kind of ‘live in the studio’ affair that is familiar to today’s home recording heroes

They also signed to John Peel’s Dandelion records, one of the first indie labels of the time and even issued an album called ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, a year before Pink Floyd immortalised the album title.

The original duo comprised vocalist Fiddler, on bass-drum, hi-hat, guitarist (and piano in the studio)  and Peter Hope Evans on blues and Jews harp.  They sometimes expanded their line-up to include guests such as former Love Affair, Mott The Hoople and British Lions keyboardist Morgan Fisher, who reappears here to add colour and dynamics to some splendid songs.

The slide and harp elements to be found on the 1973s hit ‘One And One is One’ are still very much in evidence here, though I assume it’s Fiddler himself who adds the ethereal blues harp nowadays.

‘Warriors Of  Love’ is built on an attention to detail from the carefully chosen instrumentation, to the layered sound,  enveloping  grooves and the kind of lyrical integrity that infused the DIY spirit of the original Medicine Head.

The difference now is the songs are inevitably more introspective and at times poignant. Fiddler’s oeuvre has been revitalised by a lock down infused creativity that gives his material a sense of import and the album a coherent and contemporary feel.

‘Warriors of Love’ grows exponentially as he makes good use of guest guitarists Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell, Dzal Martin, and former Mott’s keyboard player Morgan Fisher, to explore different textures.

He’s adventurous too on ‘Give Me Love’ where he combines Dylan phrasing and a stuttering John Bonham / Zeppelin drum figure on a gospel tinged hook.

Not everything works quite as well as that. ‘Chinese Whispers’ for example, tries too hard to fuse a gospel intro with 80’s sounding programmed beats and a distant voice. Everything is mixed too far back to make an impact, though as always the chorus lingers.

It’s no coincidence that his label is called Living Room Records. His home studio is the fulcrum which affords him unlimited time and potential creativity.

There’s even a mission statement of sorts to be found in the opening line of the title track, when he sings: “I believe in freedom, and I believe in truth, I believe in the power of love and I believe in you.”

It’s a dreamy subtly layered opener that levers us into an album with a pull and push feel, full of different textures and heartfelt lyrics, given extra purchase by his own impressive phrasing and nicely framed by gospel bv’s.

He later restates his opening musical template on an unexpected single remix of the title track which book-ends an excellent album.

‘Love In Your Eyes’ is different again, opening with jangling guitars and a vocal that references Dylan, Petty and The Waterboys’ Mike Scott,  delivered over programmed beats and crashing cymbals.  Some judicious piano fills, a seamless Dzal Martin guitar solo and Fiddler’s gutsy vocal ensures the track has emotional bluster.

The outstanding ‘Dancing In The Rain’ opens with a pristine acoustic and a faux string sound. There’s some additional percussion and a gently thumbed bass from Morgan Fisher, who doubles on a keyboard motif, on another layered chorus as the album moves to a fuller production

The uplifting chorus features a duet which I assume is Belinda Campbell, though she is only credited on tracks 1,6,10 and 11.

‘Warriors Of Love’ feels like an old school album that flows from beginning to the end, such that the Fiddler/Fisher co-write ‘Forgive And Forget’ feels like the perfect resolution to what has gone before. The latter features Dylan style phrasing on a much bigger production that unexpectedly moves into a slide led Pink Floyd vein via an uplifting Chuck Leavell, Allman Brothers style piano line.

There’s plenty of light and shade in the sequencing as evidenced by the heavier ‘Want Your Love’. It’s a sleazy blues shuffle with some train-time blues harp that morphs into a hypnotic groove to amplify his lascivious lyrics; “Want your love right now, come on show you how.”

The heavier blues approach is counterweighted by a lightness of touch of ‘The Ballad Of Ruby Rose’. The crisp percussive feel, Roy Shipston’s drifting wurlitzer and repeated chanted hook makes for the kind of wistful feel that infuses much of McCartney’s more acoustic sketches.

There’s no room for filler tracks here. ‘Dreams I Lost’ is a gospel into blues and Americana highlight with its own pace and flow. Despite the late 50’s literary lyrical allusions – delivered over an unexpected banjo, accordion and Dobro – it still has a timeless feel: “Everybody knows I’m a restless soul, raised in the 50’s blues and rock and roll. Hail Jack Kerouac and poet beats, I learn to learned to be cool and how to take the heat”

He digs deep for emotion on ‘Alcohol And Cheap Perfume’ with an echo laden electric piano intro on a slow drifting piece. It’s suddenly lifted by a Dzal Martin’s deep toned sculpted guitar line and Fiddler’s lyrics: “Why does life make you cry so much, dying, dying for a tender touch, the angel of the corner bring you home.”

The repeated hook is flanked by some magical interwoven guitar lines and electric piano, as a combination of his phrasing and the melody linger long after the track ends.

‘Warriors Of Love’ is a stellar album, crafted with love and dedication. It’s only a slicker production short of being a landmark album for an enduring artist, but given his lo-fi antecedents we’ll surely settle for what he has given us. ****½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra 

Josh Taerk’s latest Sunday Session was streamed on Sunday 20 March 2022 at 21:00 GMT (16:00 EST). Josh’s next session is Sunday 22 May.

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 GMT, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 8 May 2022.

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