Happy New Year – and what a splendid start to 2024. The Darkness And The Dust is Christopher Crompton’s second album and was released on December 10th but I’ve only had chance to listen to it properly in the gap between Christmas and New Year. Jolly good it is too.
Crompton is a singer-songwriter from the Midlands, running a folk club in Stourbridge, recording the album in Willenhall and with songs referencing local life, whether that be coal mining, canals/barges/boatyards or just songs about human relations. Sleeve notes and website details are a little sparse, so I’ll make some assumptions – the main one being that Crompton is playing on all the tracks. What hits you most on the first few plays is the guitar style – dextrous fingerpicking is the staple sound bringing to mind the early albums that wowed the UK folk and blues scene c. 1965 – and Crompton does it very well, the playing sounds fresh rather than derivative.
The freshness is, of course, also down to the eleven new songs on the album, all Crompton originals. ‘The Darkness And The Dust’ is a reference to the area’s mining history and (assuming Crompton to be the first-person narrator) contrasts the life he would have had a hundred years ago, “I’d be doing what I must, down in the darkness and the dust”, with the life he has today “I get to live in comfort and I get to sing my rhyme”. ‘Hard Times’ reminds us that there may be plenty wrong today, but it’s a damn sight better than pitmen going down the mine from eight years old.
‘Down On Caggy’s Boatyard’ is, I assume, a reference to when Crompton lived on a canal barge and needed the services of (worked at?) what is now the last working boatyard in the Birmingham canal network; it also tells stories of the lifestyle of those in the area. ‘The US Of A’ builds on Crompton’s first trip to America and likewise tells of characters, this time those encountered through the travelling musician’s life. The version in the video below, unadulterated acoustic charm, gives you a sense of Crompton’s ability to write a cracking song – the characters in the lyrics and the catchy chorus you want to sing.
‘Fireflies’ is a delicate reflection on loves and futures, and it contrasts stories which live on with those which are “fleeting like fireflies”; ‘Helikon’ is a reflection on less successful love; like many a folk song over the centuries, ‘Let the Storms Roll’ uses sailing/weather as an image, in this case for strength of character “I’ll take it all for the wind in my sail / They’ll never sink me, I’ll not capsize”; ‘Blow Winds Blow’, with a different theme, builds on a similar use of imagery.
The album opens with ‘Questions’ which touches on philosophy, refers to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ mountains of the mind in the chorus, flicks through a lovely instrumental break and finishes with “I’ve been asking questions since I was young … Still not sure who I should be or where I should be bound … I still couldn’t find my way home”. The final track is ‘In My Dreams’ “There’s nothing left to say/ In my dreams, I’m already on my way/Nothing is ever what it seems/ Anything can happen in my dreams”. These make for sound bookends to the album. While there’s nothing on his webpage for 2024, there is a list of over fifty gigs in the UK and in the USA from 2023.
I assume it will be worth keeping a regular eye out for update as I’d rather like to see Crompton play live. So the year starts, The Darkness And The Dust: good song writing, attractive voice to listen to, and some lovely guitar.
Artist’s website: http://www.christophercrompton.com/about.html
‘The US Of A’ – live at home:
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