Five years ago The Levellers released their Abbey Road recorded and John Leckie produced acoustic LP We the Collective. Two new songs and eight original Levellers classics were reimagined as part of an ensemble of over ten musicians. Together all the Way is the follow-up. Seven Levellers classics are reworked with a focus on traditional folk, with a Rev Hammer cover of “Down by the River 'O'” and two new songs.
“The Game”, the sophomore track on Levelling the Land opens Together all the Way. The slowed-down dark, sinister and macabre opening adroitly forces the listener to absorb the distinct and pounding musical arrangements. The original may have made fans want to jump up and down and dance out of anger at the unfairness addressed, but this version leaves the listener unnervingly elatedly statuesque as they absorb every emotion this song intends to convey.
“The Cholera Well” like “The Game” receives the darkened BPM turndown to great effect as the soundscape matches up with the poignant unnerving lyrics. The bittersweet humming harmonies especially at the outset provide the raw traditional emotion one seeks out in folk music.
A lesser-known song “Wheels” from the Levellers' 2005 Truth and Lies also receives the dark remastered treatment. Initially “Wheels”, with its sixties rock and pop and organ arrangements didn’t enunciate the distress and urgency of the lyrics which depicts the cost of living and the absence of the delivery of satisfactory relief and solutions the way this new version does.
The most upbeat song “Down by the River ‘O’” about the Great Flood of 1968 in Buntingford truly honours acoustic folk tradition the way Levellers live favourite “Dirty Davey” does. The skill is its ability to captivate and tell a story. “Together all the Way”, the fourth track on their debut LP and also the fourth track on this LP uses opening drum loops similar to the bands 2014 version of “What a Beautiful Day” with Imelda May. The harmonica is ditched in favour of country music riffs. There is a beautiful use of harmonies for the chorus which doesn’t feature in the Weapon Called the Word original. This rendition deftly celebrates looking back on halcyon days whilst stressing the importance of looking forward and taking united action.
“Wake the World”, the organ playout to The Levellers' 2002 Green Blade Rising not only adds warming harmonies but also celebrates the ukulele. The new song “Man O War” emphasises the acoustic guitar which uses riffs that evoke the peaceful feelings found in Crosby, Stills Nash and Young’s music. “Man O War” also benefits from influences found in Mark Chadwick’s second solo effort Moment.
With Simon Friend featuring heavily on We the Collective and singing some of its strongest songs including “Elation”, it was always necessary to somehow honour him on Together all the Way even though he was not involved with the recording of this LP. The Levellers showed courage and bravery by reworking “Battle of the Beanfield”. The impact of the pounding drums at the begging and outro is replaced with slower, darker and sinister violin pieces. Whilst “Battle of the Beanfield” will always be identified with Simon, The Levellers showed how it can be reworked to be an acoustic staple.
Whilst Together all the Way was an acoustic return to traditional folk roots, the new song, the playout “Sitting In The Social” is undeniably punk. With arrangements similar to Dropkick Murphy’s cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Ten Times More”, “Sitting in the Social” is the only song which will raise the listener from their seat and rouse anger as this song addresses the all-too-real challenges faced by people who need to turn to social services and food banks.
Whilst Together all the Way relied on enlisting old allies such as Sean Lakeman to produce as he has done for the Levellers since 2008, Hannah and Ollie from the Moulettes on cello who featured on We the Collective and Al Scott to mix, whose relationship with the band stems over 30 years, there are no groupthink issues.
Together all the Way is more daring and courageous than its predecessor and proves the band, who already have an excellent track record, can still make impressive strides.