STUART FORESTER – The Good Earth (Melonstone MLNR002)

The Good EarthSince we last heard from Stuart Forester he has endured tragedy and moved to Scotland from where he sometimes posts photographs of his new life and where he recorded his second album, The Good Earth. If you loved A Yard Of Ale as much as I did, you may feel some trepidation now. I admit that Stuart’s new record sat on my desk for a while waiting for me to pluck up the courage to play it. I can tell you now that he has lost nothing and gained much in the intervening years.

The opening track, ‘Born In A Blizzard’, takes us back to his home town of Hull. It has a retro sound with big guitar enhanced by Jonny Hardie’s fiddle and a jazzy/blues feel that comes from somewhere in the 60s. As before, Stuart keeps his arrangements simple – he plays dulcimer and keys as well as guitar – and also has Carol Anderson’s fiddle, Davy Cattanach’s percussion and harmony vocals from Rhiannon Campbell’s harmony vocals but nothing is overdone and the songs are where they should be – front and centre.

At first glance ‘Dead End Road Signs’ would seem to originate in America’s rust-belt but add in Stuart’s accent and it could equally be about the Yorkshire coalfields. ‘Red Brick Ballads’ is about “any street” but you sort of know that it’s about Hull and ‘Say Goodbye To Your Grimsby Lass’ proudly announces its roots in the fishing industry. ‘JJ Ride That Horse’ is definitely set in the USA but take away the coyotes and it could be describing life in the Scottish highlands. Stuart seems to enjoy ambiguity and double meanings.

Take the north London Irish song, ‘London Pride’, a wonderful tale of a session. The title could simply mean the sense of belonging in a community like that but it also refers to the beer. Then again, it is a story from Stuart’s past and implicitly references his late wife, Karen. Once again Hardie’s fiddle sets the scene and if I had been charged with sequencing the album I would have closed with it instead of the rather downbeat ‘Colorado Days’. If that’s the only criticism I can come up with you can be sure that there’s not much wrong with The Good Earth. And there’s much more for you to discover for yourself.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.stuartforester.com

‘London Pride’ – live: