Although billed as a solo album, The Godforsaken Voyage is the work of a collective of English folk musicians led by Phil Odgers. His band The Men They Couldn’t Hang have drifted on and off the scene over the last three decades but the bonds between members have remained strong. Bandmates Tom Spencer and Jon Odgers appear on the album as does Paul Simmonds who wrote two of the songs. The album started as an EP of favourite covers produced by Mick Glossop (Waterboys, Zappa, Van Morrison etc.) who plays on most of the tracks. Queen of Folk Eliza Carthy is among the host of musicians who lend their talents to this collection of songs about voyages made across seas and through life and the destinations they lead to.
The album opens with the title track which relates the historic 1831 riot in Coventry in which a ribbon factory was burnt down in protest at the introduction of machinery and low wages. One might expect Shane Macgowan’s voice to come in over the robust rhythm that opens the song before Odgers tells the tale of one of the convicts on a boat bound for Australia.
On “Dusty Fields”, one of the songs penned by Paul Simmonds, Odgers is joined by John Jones from the Oysterband and Eliza Carthy. Their voices blend perfectly over a light melody that immediately evokes English fields on a fine summer’s day. The lyrics tell a darker tale of migrant workers “picking beets and beans until the dusk.” These are people whose voyage has taken them to a godforsaken destination, yet there is a note of optimism, “But if crops can rise then so can I” all voices sing as one, as the song reaches its peak.
Odgers is a masterful lyricist often singing in character, encapsulating whole lives and personalities in a few simple verses. As a hapless gambler in “Names” he laments “How could I know my horse would slip, the jock too eager with the whip / That one cost my daughter her school trip.” Maybe it’s the same character who in “Emotional Wreck” admits “Wonders were spoken by your lips / And spells were broken by mine.”
“Sunday Morning, Coming Down” was one of the first songs to be recorded for the album. Odgers’ rendition does not add much to the widely covered classic but Kris Kristofferson’s protagonist fits perfectly in the cast of characters down on their luck who populate these songs. The stand out cover is Gene Clark’s “Through the Morning, Through The Night.” Odgers and Carthy duet and make the song their own. The album closes with a polished rendition of Tom Waits’ “Bottom of The World.”
Phil Odgers’ clean vocal style risks sounding flat at times. It lacks the character that makes singers like Waits or Dylan instantly recognisable. His greatest accomplishments are as a lyricist and curator of a cast of musicians whose performances give the music depth and distinction.
The Godforsaken Voyage is a rare meeting of some of English folk’s greatest talent. Finely crafted original songs and heartfelt tributes to songwriting greats from across the Atlantic make this an unmissable album for any lovers of contemporary folk.