JEFF WARNER – Roam The Country Through (WildGoose WGS425CD)

Roam The Country ThroughIf you haven’t yet heard Jeff Warner live, you have a rare treat in store. Jeff is the son of two of America’s foremost song collectors, Frank and Anne Warner and, as such, his knowledge is unparalleled. On stage he is relaxed and genial swapping between concertina, banjo and guitar – and sometimes jig-doll – and rarely have I so devoutly wished that a gig would never end. I do love Americana and Roam The Country Through is what I mean by that. This is the real thing.

All these songs are traditional except when they’re not and I probably should explain what I mean by that. Take the opening track, ‘Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel’. Most of us would consider it to be traditional but Jeff’s version owes much to Uncle Dave Macon who adapted a minstrel song written in 1853 by Dan Emmett who probably pinched an earlier song. OK, let’s call it traditional.

The seventeen tracks here mix traditional songs, some collected by the Warners and others by Cecil Sharp, twentieth century poetry, music-hall tunes and even a bit of gospel. The journeys that some of these songs have undertaken are quite remarkable. ‘Lass Of Glenshee’ is as Scottish as they come and was probably written in the late 18th century in Perth and the Warners collected it from an old logger in the Adirondacks in the 1940s. You can only imagine how it got there. From the same source came ‘Jamie Judge’, a real logging camp song. In complete contrast is ‘It’s My Lazy Day’ by Smiley Burnette who appeared in movies as Gene Autry’s sidekick.

So, we have a selection of songs than span more than 150 years, most with a well-documented provenance but as with ‘Lass Of Glenshee’ we can speculate on how ‘Gypsum Davy’ arrived in Tennessee. Jeff doesn’t need much support but he’s aided by Alice Jones on vocals, keyboards and whistle and the fiddle of Ben Paley and, all in all, this is a damn fine record.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Days Of ’49’ – live (an old recording of a song on this album):

PHIL COOPER – Thoughts & Observations (own label PHILCOOPER13)

Thoughts & ObservationsPhil Cooper’s singer-songwriting style is firmly in the pop-folk arena: ringing guitar, tight bass and drums and clever use of backing vocals. He turned pro two years ago and Thoughts & Observations is his third studio album.

This is an album that I liked more as it went on. There are songs of social comment, fine songs, too, but the first two tracks felt messy on first listening. The first track that really engaged me was ‘Fear Factory’, probably because it chimes with my own views. It’s an attack on the mainstream media; Phil isn’t specific but we all know which publications he’s talking about, don’t we? ‘Only A Song’ is rather self-deprecating as Phil says that he’s just singing what he thinks and, after all, it’s only a song. Woody Guthrie proclaimed that “this machine kills fascists” and I’m all for singers following that line.

Second time around it’s rather like starting a detective story after first reading the end. When you know where it’s going, where it starts becomes more enjoyable. So the first track, ‘Thoughts & Observations (Introduction)’, comes across as a mission statement for the album and ‘Keeping Something Inside’ is sound advice – none of us can change the world alone but the corollary is missing – keep your own side of the street clean. ‘Shake It Up’ maybe embraces that thought.

‘Road Songs’ is the embodiment of the travelling musician’s life story and like ‘Smokescreen’ and ‘Face Doesn’t Fit’ it rings true more with repeated listening. The latter exemplifies the take-home message of the album – that we spend too much of our lives cocooned in our own little bubble, partly of our own making. My first favourite song is still my favourite but as I listen more and more of Thoughts & Observations floats my boat.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Shake It Up’ – Phil’s new single: