Pete David & the Payroll Union, “Underfed and Underpaid” EP
How is it that one of the best undiscovered Americana acts hails from the Motherland instead of the upstart colonies? Out of Sheffield, England, comes Pete David & the Payroll Union with their ambitious new EP, the title of which comes from the opening track “St. Lawrence River,” which tells the tale of a British soldier in the French and Indian War (what the Brits refer to as the Seven Years War). The titular reference is to the soldier’s plight, which apparently hasn’t changed much in three hundred years or so.
Musically, David and company fit in nicely amongst the Mumford and Sons/Civil Wars/Avett Brothers axis of acts which put a contemporary spin on antiquated instrumentation. The historical focus of these songs, however, sets them apart thematically from any of those bands with an ambition that’s admirable as well as entertaining.
The songs weave together various times in American history like an interactive musical textbook for the iPad generation, and the emotions conveyed are real enough to make one wish there was indeed a way to touch the characters and situations in the songs. “The Sacrifice” sets the Salem witch trials to an ominous beat, and the character of Abigail shows up again a couple songs later in the track named for her, “Abigail” (“Oh, Abigail, Salem’s been a bore since you left…”). Wars play a big part, from the Revolution and the War of 1812 to the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, and if that seems like a lot to cram into the space of an EP, rest assured that it’s done with symbolism and storytelling, not exhaustive detail.
Throughout, the band rocks, rolls, and revels in a carnival-like attitude that must be what a jam session in a Sheffield bar is like, instruments clanging in and out of the frame while a shuffling beat keeps everything trim and sailing along.
Here’s the official video for “Abigail”: