Fifty years ago Wizz Jones invited Ralph May down to Cornwall to play at the Folk Cottage. May decided to change his name to McTell and the rest is history…except that they never made an album together. Until now. About Time is a selection of old favourites – you’ll find some tracks on their studio albums – and some that I think they’ve taught each other recently.
This is an album of two old friends making music together. There are two guitars, a banjo and a harmonica and two voices swapping lead and harmony vocals. No egos were bruised in the making of About Time. The set starts with a languid, almost lazy, take of the traditional ‘Honey Baby Blues’. McTell takes the lead vocal and harmonica part and the song rolls along but what immediately grabs the attention is the harmony singing – you’d think they’d been doing it for years.
Jones is up next with ‘Out Of The Snow’, which sounds old but was written by Russell Smith of The Amazing Rhythm Aces and which suits Wizz’s gentle warm voice perfectly. Then another blues, Blind Blake’s ‘You’re Gonna Quit Me Baby’, before we come to ‘Deportees’. This is song that can drag, partly because of the weight of the subject matter but Ralph and Wizz give it the lightest of touches. The waltz time is emphasised and a couple of notes are subtly altered, just enough to make you listen with new ears. It’s brilliant.
The mood lightens for a while; ‘Diamond Joe’ and ‘Old Rattler’s Pup’ are both fun before Townes Van Zandt’s ‘If I Needed You’. There has to a Dylan cover and here is one of my favourites, ‘Abandoned Love’. It’s a new song to Ralph who takes the lead and enthuses over the chord pattern. There is a co-write with Jones’ long-time song provider Alan Tunbridge, Uncle Dave Macon’s ‘Morning Blues’ and, to close, ‘I Never Did Sing You A Love Song’ by David Nichtern who, bizarrely, also wrote the soundtrack for American Pie. Where that one came from is anyone’s guess.
About Time is a rather low-key celebration of Ralph McTell’s fifty years in music – his major retrospective, The Journey, celebrated his fortieth anniversary – and Wizz’s approximately sixty years if you count The Wranglers back in 1957. Perhaps we should push the boat out for him next year. It is, however, entirely appropriate for two guys who haven’t forgotten where their music came from. It’s a bloody good record, too.
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Ralph and Wizz in conversation: