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Benedict Edwards's 'Barrack Room Ballads' Give Rudyard Kipling the Folk Treatment

Stream the London-based songwriter's new album, inspired by the famed writer's Victoria-era musings on India, army, and empire.

​I generally wouldn't cover an album like the one I'm about to tell you about, not because I have anything in particular against earnest, dreary folk music—I quite like it, actually—but because (as I've told an increasing army of publicists by now), it's just not in my wheelhouse. However, as Noisey's indisputable queen of history nerdery, I'd be remiss if I missed the chance to write about this particular conceptual folk album. On Barrack Room Ballads, the new full-length from ex-Miocene​ frontman Benedict Edwards​, the order of the day is imperialism—specifically, the bloodily bejeweled, gunpowder-dusted days of the British Raj, and famed writer Rudyard Kipling's a-bit-too-rosy recollections thereof.


The lyrics for the album are taken piecemeal from Kipling's 1892 collection of songs and poems by the same name, written about life in the British Army. Kipling's Barrack Room Ballads was originally published in 1892, during the late Victorian era —while India was held firmly under colonialist rule. The original collection included Kipling's well-known poem, "Gunga Din," though I'm not familiar enough with the work to ascertain whether any lines make an appearance on Edwards's tribute.

It's all terribly romantic, though, in that grandiose, ultra descriptive 19th century style (that, of course, conveniently sails past all the atrocities and oppression of the Indian peoplethat was going on as corseted memsahibs swanned across verandas, gentlemen in pith helmets stalked tigers through the bush, and the British East India Company fattened its coffers on tea and human misery). You know, all that stuff Kipling left out.

The sins of the fathers aside, Edwards's vision for these songs is a thoroughly lovely one. Musically, these Ballads see the London-based musician gently strum his way through waves of gin-soaked nostalgia, dreams of tea and garlic, and the odd arch, ironic turn of phrase about those damned British. ​The music itself is jaunty and understated, stained with a smoky patina of cigar smoke and spilt ale, and despite his severe, side-burned portrait-cum-album cover, Edwards's voice is surprisingly light and wistful.

Barrack Room Ballads is out November 11​, and for the first month of release all profits will go to the veteran's mental health charity Combat Stress.​ Listen below.

Kim Kelly is remembering Brown Bess on Twitter​.