Boo Hewerdine’s Selected Works is a best of collection that acoustically lights votive candles to his devoted fans. But to the uninitiated, this is a welcome album of simple songs that touch late night introspection with vintage melodies that are still, and will always be, warm thoughts that gaze into the always eternal skies – with a really nice undercurrent that, perhaps, can sing to a full folky moon.
With ‘Why Does The Nightingale Sing?’ Boo asks an eternal question about the deep root of beauty. And, he sings about “Moonlight that plays on his wings”, “a love that is lost’, “a sound of a joy that has gone”, and “a midnight that comes and goes”. With those words, he gives a pretty great answer, while also professing, “How could we ever know?” That warm nest of uncertain duality is the intangible ethos, and perhaps greatness, of his music.
The brief and quite brilliant ‘An Atheist In A Foxhole’ is laced with that uncertainty that continues to pray, even though there’s “no one there to hear my call”. Bruce Springsteen, in his song, ‘Reason To Believe’, sings of a guy who finds a dead dog ‘lyin’ by a highway in a ditch”. And the guy “pokes that dead dog with a stick” and thinks “If he stood there long enough that dog’d get up and run”. And, of course, that (to use the vernacular folk song dialect) ain’t going to happen! ‘An Atheist’ is a similar “bridge over troubled waters”.
Several songs couldn’t possibly be more apt cousins to those “simplest of tunes whistled” by Richard Thompson’s ‘Crazy Man Michael’. Truly, ‘Language Of Love’ is a perfect pop folk song that hangs its beauty right on the very nerve edge of the River Schmaltzy, but never, thankfully, takes the plunge. Boo walks on that melodic tightrope. And ‘Bluebird’ (with Kris Drever!) treads that fine line, much like (the great) Anthony Phillips did with a song like ‘God If I Saw Her Now’ on his The Geese And The Ghost solo album. The same is true for ‘And’, ‘The Birds Are Leaving’, and ‘Funny Bones’, which are emotive voiced with deep Ant Phillips pathos (that needs to be played on a dismal rainy Autumnal day!). Then, ‘American TV (radio edit)’ could almost be an outtake (with wonderous harmony vocals) from The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.
‘The Village Bell 2021 Version’ (again, with Kris Drever!) takes a plunge into the River of Authentic Currents and really does echo the sublime folky sound of early Ralph McTell.
Now, to get all British and William Blakean about all of this, Boo’s music never sings (to quote The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell) of a “Rintrah” who “roars & shakes his fires in the burden’d air” and pretty much stays within the quiet bounds of those Songs Of Innocence. But that’s all right. The song ‘Write’ is a breathy plea and one of those votive candle songs. ‘Swimming In Mercury’ uses (unfortunate electronic) percussion but has a really nice folk waltz introspective depth. ‘Last Rays Of The Sun’ is a very simple glance that, somehow, manages to make emotive time stand still. Then, ‘Follow My Tears’ is a narrative song from a woman’s point of view. This is a tune with a strong heart, delivered with an acoustic touch. It’s a lovely song that, in a strange way, echoes the family strength of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Highway Patrolman’ from his classic Nebraska album. ’11:59’ is a starchy short spin with an old Victrola sound that is sort of like all the bric-o-brac on the walls of a bed and breakfast where I once spent a night in the city of York.
Now, to quote The Clash, and say ‘Something About England’, Boo Hewerdine is a very British folk singer. Even amongst American anglophile enthusiasts who hold every John Martyn record as gospel truth, still think Vin Garbutt’s Little Innocents is (politics aside!) brilliant, and order every new Karine Polwart album sight unseen, our Boo is pretty much an unknown commodity. Sadly, Boomania never caught fire here in the States! His albums occasionally were given a buried release, and his band The Bible’s Eureka (produced by Steve Earle!) showed up unannounced on the Chrysalis label. So, as a confessed uninitiated listener, I can’t quibble about the inclusion or exclusion of any particular song in this Selected Works.
That said, I simply added Selected Works all to my favorite British things not found in, to (sort of) quote The Clash again, “my safe my” North American “home”—a 99 Flake ice cream cone, treacle, a sausage roll (!!!), a pint of Strongbow cider, the best Earl Grey tea, ever, rain in most afternoons, that big ten pence coin, zebra crossings, empty record sleeves, big stone cathedrals, Chinese take-a-ways, my first kabob (on the way to see Kevin Coyne in concert!), more rain, London’s Cheapo-Cheapo record shop, and, of course, the absolute savory heaven on earth delight of a McVities Digestive Biscuit, which in a very weird culinary way, may well explain the purpose of this universe—with or without the dark chocolate topping.
But there are more songs–twenty tunes in all. ‘Microfilm’ is brief, but profound in a simple way (with a wonderful melody!) which sort of captures the eternal essence of this record. The same is true for the piano graced ‘Hometown’ and ‘It’s A Beautiful Night’ both of which again glance at the introspection of (the oft-mentioned) Ralph McTell with his songs like ‘Naomi’ and ‘Sylvia’.
A favorite tune: ‘Wanderlust’ swirls with a weird psychedelic touch.
‘Last Cigarette’ is more pensive thoughtful beauty that pleads for redemption. There’s an interesting line that says, “Sometimes your drug chooses you”. This is tough tune.
And then, in the end, ‘Silhouette’ is a slow-danced thought that contemplates the purpose of human existence in the guise of a simple folk tune. It’s a fitting end to an album that will, for an eternity (and beyond), listen to a nightingale and then sing songs about “The moonlight that plays on its wings”, while singing yet another of those ‘Crazy Man Michael’ “simplest of tunes”, that somehow, touch the deep pulse of nice melodies sung under the starry vibe of any full and very folky moon.
Artist’s website: https://boohewerdine.net/
‘Bluebirds’ – live with Kris Drever: