Five years on from The Land of Time, the Leicester-born folkie returns with his fourteenth studio album, A Golden Thread: eight new self-penned songs, a brace of traditionals and the Pete Seeger title cover, with musical assistance from Sarah Matthews on strings, Matt Quinn providing mandolin, banjo and concertina, double bassist Justin Twigg, additional guitar and euphonium by George Sansome, djembe, bodhran, cajon and low whistle from Mark Woolley and Alice Jones doubling up on piano and clarinet.
It’s the Seeger number, ‘Oh Had I A Golden Thread’, to give it the full title, that gets the ball rolling, the slow waltz intro picking up pace as mandolin and fiddle kick in, Morton dropping the first verse, rewriting the second and adding two new ones of his own; basically just keeping the chorus intact.
The first that’s all his own work is ‘Immigrant Child’, a five-minute swayalong that touches on the worries that trouble second, third or even fourth generation immigrants who, may think themselves assimilated, but who carry with them but the pride of their ancestry but also the sense that “the ignorant and rich may condemn where you go”, a song with particular resonance in the wake of the recent Windrush repatriations.
It’s followed by his equally lengthy shuffling drums and pulsing arrangement of ‘Barbry Allen’ that marries together an English troubadour-like feel with a darker Appalachian tone shimmered with tinkling (death) bells and Matthews’ fiddle. Heading close on six minutes and opening with Matthews on strings, ‘Yemeni Moon’ welcomes the voices of The Peace Through Folk Choir for the subdued but stirring chorus on a song condemning the gunrunners that keep despots and drug lords in power, making specific reference to the Second Amendment and referencing Dylan’s ‘Master of War’.
Riding a loping, bluesy rhythm slightly akin to Iggy Pop’s ‘Passenger’, ‘We Are The Trees By The Side Of The Road’ offers a centuries-spanning arboreal metaphor for community (“there’s lots of little creatures living inside”) and permanence whatever changes may befall as well as a reminder of how vital trees are in combating global warming.
The first of two duets, the folk-anthemic ‘I Live Your Love’ features Julie Wigley for another song that speaks of the ancient land and the seeds handed down by ancestors growing into new futures to harvest, an ode to those actual and metaphorical farmers who plough the actual and metaphorical fields down the generations “caring for the children/To make theirs a better day”.
A lively little number with low whistle and a jovial rhythm calling to mind ‘Mairi’s Wedding’, you don’t need me to tell you the foundation upon which ‘Universal Basic Income’ is built, a call to provide “dignity for everyone” with “time to work and time to think/Not worried that your boat might sink/Living life not on the brink”.
The second duet is, in fact, a reworking of one of his older songs (from 2005’s Flying An Unknown Flag), the six-minute fingerpicked McTell-echoing ‘Emily Dickinson Revisited (Good Day, Mr, Nobody)’, still in love with the poems and the poet, still walking “the dream between God’s love/And life’s despair”, with Jude Rees providing the chorus as the voice of the object of his affection calling him to “come help us save our world”.
Again, there’s little to explain about ‘The Grenfell Carol’, a call for justice for all and an invitation to “sing for those you never knew” and “start to end corruption on the earth”, the musical mood shifting for the final original, the goodtime bounce of ‘Metropolitan Safari’, the lyrics navigating their way across London, taking in the Old Kent Road, Ally Pally, Muswell Hill, Camden Lock and Hampstead Heath in what gradually reveals itself as another song about the migrant (“I’m just a country boy from the field and the farm…come to the city for to chance my arm”) and immigrant (“My English isn’t great.. there are people with opinions about people like me”) experience and which, with its mention of travel writer and investor (Geert) Rex Scheepbouwer, must be one of the most obscure references ever to find its way into a song.
Back to the land, it ends with the other traditional tune, ‘A Farmer’s Boy’, starting out unaccompanied before Sansome’s euphonium joins in to add a churchy touch to the familiar military march arrangement. It’s good to have him back.
Artist’s website: www.petemorton.com
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