BROOKS WILLIAMS & AARON CATLOW – Ghost Owl (Red Guitar Blue Music 2102C)

Ghost OwlI’ve been a fan of Brooks Williams since I first encountered him at a festival running a session from a table outside a pub because the key for the hall had been misplaced. His down-to-earth attitude and freewheeling choice of songs made for a wonderful afternoon in the sun. Aaron Catlow works in a rather different milieu making acoustic music with his partner Kit Hawes. Lockdown threw together some unexpected bedfellows as Ghost Owl proves.

It all started when Brooks was invited by wildlife film-maker Simon Hurwitz to record some music to accompany one or two of his films. The subject of the films was the barn owl, sometimes known as the ghost owl for its silent flight, and Brooks became fascinated with the bird, writing more and more until he had an album full of tunes. Before making the album, Brooks decided that he wanted the violin of Aaron on board. I must emphasise that Aaron isn’t a bit player here. Both musicians have their own distinctive musical voices and it seems to me that neither have compromised them. Although you can hear Brooks’ traditional American roots in the structure of some tunes there are also European and sub-continental influences in the music.

So, ‘Billy Wix’ begins and ends as a ragtime tune but goes off somewhere else in the middle. The opening track, ‘Night Shift’ is a fine example of two musicians playing with and against each other as is ‘Hoolet’ which features some characteristically funky guitar while the violin plays its own melodies. The title track begins with a mournful violin playing over gentle fingerpicked guitar but gradually builds up the pace and becomes less melancholy. ‘Rene’s Garden’ is a similarly slow, reflective piece.

‘Tipper’s Field’ has a country feel and is a bit bluesy without being in blues time and ‘First Dusk’ continues the country feel as a waltz. ‘Weary Of The Moon’ is a wonderful flight of fancy. ‘Fenland Flier’ is another lovely piece of melancholy which would have made a fine final track had not ‘Johnny’s Farewell’ picked up the mood, played around with it for while and then discarded it favour of something more toe-tapping for a delightful ending.

I’m tempted to say that Ghost Owl is a record that neither Aaron nor Brooks could have made on their own and that the chain of circumstances that brought them together also brought rich rewards.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Night Shift’ – as live as could be:

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