Look, I’m sorry. I know that this record won’t be released for a while yet and you can’t get your hands on it but I’ve been sitting on it for several weeks with barely concealed impatience and now is the time. The first thing I want to say is that if anyone tells you that traditional music is dying or just for us oldies, point them to Jack Rutter and his debut album, Hills. As Martin Carthy says, the worst thing you can do to a traditional song is not sing it. These songs need to be sung and refreshed by each successive generation and that’s exactly what Jack does.
The majority of the songs come from Jack’s native county and his soft Yorkshire accent adds just the right measure of distinctiveness. These are all solo performances with no overdubs and Jack plays guitar, bouzouki and Maccann Duet concertina. He starts with ‘Hey John Barleycorn’, a composite version like many now, and avoids the temptation of a big chorus and next comes the first bit of real cleverness. ‘The Bilberry Moors’ is a poem written in the nineteenth century by a Mr. John Swain and the tune that Jack wrote for it sounds so nineteenth century; uplifting and a bit bucolic. The fact that the moors in question are close to Jack’s home makes the words and melody a perfect match.
‘The Deserter’ is one of two songs originally from Wiggy Smith and is more or less the version that Martin Carthy sings. The second is ‘I’ll Take My Dog And My Airgun Too’, presumably Smith’s title but not one I’ve encountered before, and as before Jack has assembled verses from here and there to his satisfaction. In fact, there are only three songs that he sings as he first heard them; two from the Watersons and one from Frank Hinchcliffe, but I’ll bet he’s added a few tweaks to them.
I have to be critical of one track. Jack sings the standard Anglicised version of ‘The Dalesman’s Litany’ as most singers do which isn’t exactly what Frederic W Moorman wrote. Whither “Hunslet, Holbeck, Wibsey Slack” I wonder. What he does do well is to use his guitar to express the singer’s anger at the world as he finds it in an instrumental break before the final verse in which contentment is found. That is clever and adds his signature to a song that is so well-known.
I’m not going to leave on a negative note, though. ‘Hatton Woods’, ‘Stormy Winds’ and ‘The Banks Of Sweet Dundee’ are enough to make up for any perceived shortcomings in one track and this is set to be one of my albums of the year.
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Artist’s website: www.jackruttermusic.com
‘Hey John Barleycorn’ – live: