Don’t ask me how many albums Phil Hare has made but it’s a lot and A Stranger I Came is his latest. It’s simply recorded off the floor with a couple of minimal overdubs of banjo and Dobro and is big on Phil’s fingerpicked guitar. The songs and tunes are mostly Phil’s own plus three covers and some traditional pieces and are largely concerned with the current political and social situation. There isn’t much scope for humour but he does his best and not always in expected places.
The opener is one of the covers, Kevin Buxton’s ‘One Step Away From The Blues’ and rather sets the whole “what a mess we’re in” scene. That’s followed by the traditional ‘Blarney Pilgrim’ paired with ‘Nigel Farage Swimming The Channel’. I had hoped that the latter would be scurrilous and unrepeatable but it is also an instrumental. He let me down, there, but more than redeems himself with ‘Water Wide’, a song with very modern lyrics about refugees and a powerful message styled like a traditional ballad. The aquatic theme continues with the instrumental ‘The Water Is Wide’ paired with a song, ‘Sure As The River Flows’.
‘I’ve Got My Country Back’ says what many people are thinking and saying and injects a note of gallows humour while ‘Can’t Quote Shakespeare’ is out-and-out comedy where I was expecting a comment on our education system. ‘Will You Marry Me?’ is a poignant song about two gays in Dublin who waited twenty years for the change in the law which allowed them to marry. It’s very cleverly constructed so that you’re never totally sure where it’s going until it arrives. ‘Broken Society’ returns to the tough side of life with the tale of a disabled soldier facing benefit cuts.
Four tracks are purely instrumental, including a gorgeous cover of Cindy Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’, and they lighten what could be a rather bleak album given the majority of the subject matter. Even the romantic sounding closer, ‘You Never Really Went’, has an air of melancholy mixed with nostalgia and a measure of optimism. Like much of the record, it’s delicately layered.
Artist’s website: www.philhare.co.uk
‘The Water Is Wide/Sure As The River Flows’ – live: