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16 December 2006

Planet of the Blind

Karen Sheader centre stage with Mark Scott and Derek Mathews playing guitars either side of her

Karen Sheader on stage (with Mark Scott and Derek Mathews)

Planet of the Blind features 11 new songs from Karen Sheader, former lead vocalist of the Fugertivs. She is accompanied on acoustic guitar by Derek Matthews and Mark Scott. Each track is a writing collaboration between either Sheader and Matthews or Sheader and Scott.

Many of the songs tell stories, either of other people or drawn from personal experience. Sheader proves herself to be a highly accomplished and engaging storyteller.

The tempo is upbeat, the lyrics sharp-edged and hard-hitting, but the songs are always eloquent and well-crafted and strongly contrast with the brasher more confrontational style of the Fugertivs' CD. There is a confident lightness of approach that never betrays the seriousness of the issues explored.

The two versions of Planet of the Blind explore the weirdness of non-disabled people's attitudes to people with visual impairments. All for the Best tells the story of a young learning-disabled woman who has been sterilised at her mother's request. Mr Drop Dead Gorgeous laments the sexual invisibility of disabled people and has a truly gorgeous sting in its tail. Join the Dance is a great put down to an abusive former partner. Magic H20 berates the snake-oil salesmen who peddle in miraculous relief. Cheshire Cat passionately tears shreds out of one of the archenemies of the disabled people's movement. Song for Tess tells the story of a woman worn out by a lifetime of institutionalisation.

Sheader has a strong slightly husky voice with a style ranging from the sultry folk punk of Planet of the Blind to the haunting refrains of Magic H20 and The Light That Purs In. The mix renders her own voice to great effect as backing vocals. However, one of the high points is the closing track, Not In Our Lifetime, which shows Sheader's strength as a live performer.

The two acoustic guitarists endow the album throughout with a rich diversity of styles. Join the Dance merges the tango with country and western. Magic H20 has a tremulous mystical quality. Screen reading software is used to spine-tingling effect on Invisible, a song which explores the alienation of disabled people in mainstream society.

Inspired lyrics along with the virtuosity of all three musicians produce an album which fuses powerful reflections on disability with a refreshingly original sound.

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