RAPSQUILLION – Earthly Joys (Own Label)

Earthly JoysRapsquillion is a harmony group known to “stalk the Welsh Marches with their eclectic mix of songs” though these days they seem to be stalking well beyond the border country. However, their CD Earthly Joys certainly lives up to the eclectic label, covering a wider range of material than I’d expected with panache.

The line-up for this album consists of Trevor Hedges (vocals, guitar), Kay Hedges (vocals, flute), Jenny Wright (vocals, recorder), Dave Wright (vocals, harmonica), Andy Ketchen (vocals, guitar, concertina), Sue Lawrence (vocals, flute, violin), and Nancy Ketchen (vocals, bodhrán), while Jon Bell contributes concertina to ‘Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmates’ and Sue Stockton-Link takes lead vocals on ‘Ar Gyfer Heddiw’r Bore’.

Here’s my track-by-track reaction:

  1. The CD kicks off in fine style with ‘Asikhatali’ (sometimes known with a variant spelling, or as ‘The ANC Song’ or ‘Children Of Africa’). Sophisticated harmonies that play well to the individual qualities of the singers.
  2. The second track revisits ‘The Broadside Man’, by John Connolly and Bill Meek of The Broadside. To be honest, I always want to take a red pencil to the line about the pirate hanged on Tyburn Tree, but I suppose the likelier ‘hanged on Execution Dock’ would have presented rhyming problems. Nevertheless, this version has a nice balance between the harmonies on the chorus and the individual voices on the verses, all suitably propelled by the underlying bodhrán.
  3. ‘Street Calls/Sea Coal’ combines a medley of street calls with a haunting arrangement of the Graeme Miles song ‘Sea Coal’. .
  4. Andy Ketchen’s ‘Raffa’ is based on a story of a boy and his raven heard on the Welsh Borders. Unusually for this CD, it has a (very suitable) prominent guitar backing, and the attractive lyric is augmented by lovely high harmonies on the chorus from ‘the gorgeous Rapsquillettes‘.
  5. I always preferred Mike Harding in serious mode, and his song ‘King Cotton’ is about as serious as it gets, with its images of hard living among the dark satanic mills of the industrial North. The tune here isn’t quite as Harding sang it, but the harmonies are very effective.
  6. ‘Ar Gyfer Heddiw’r Bore’ is a plygain (‘cockcrow’, being sung characteristically at an uncivilized hour on Christmas morning) carol with words generally credited to David Hughes (1794-1862). Harmonies worth getting up for.
  7. ‘John Barleycorn’ is pretty much the ‘Hey, John Barleycorn’ version collected in the ’50s from George Attrill of Sussex. A stirring tune with ace harmonies.
  8. ‘An Dros’ takes a break from vocalization with an instrumental track, an attractive pair of Breton dance tunes – an An Dro being a circle dance in 4/4. Much as I like their singing, I wouldn’t hate it if they did more things like this. J
  9. There have been many excellent close harmony versions of ‘The Lyke Wake Dirge’ since the Young Tradition recorded it in the 1960s, making full use of its scope for eerie harmony. This version has more dynamic and harmonic variation than some other versions. I like it a lot, but I’d have preferred it if the main melody had been a bit further forward in the mix.
  10. ‘Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmates’ is a sea song that has increased in popularity since it was featured in Master And Commander (apparently – somehow I missed that bit!). It’s a jaunty tune (slightly reminiscent of ‘Come Landlord Fill The Flowing Bowl’) underpinned by Jon Bell’s concertina.
  11. ‘Quand Je Bois’ is an ambitious polyphonic arrangement of a French drinking song, going into Gilles Chabenat’s bourrée ‘La Poule Huppée’. I’ll drink to that.
  12. The tune of Chumbawumba’s ‘Singing Out The Days’ in part resembles ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye’, but the words are more reminiscent of the plight of the Poor Bloody Infantry in the Great War. A great song, well sung.
  13. ‘Time Ashore Is Over’ is Bill Meek’s forebitter-flavoured song, written for the Fishing Heritage Centre production Here’s To The Grimsby Lads, adapted to present the voices of both the trawlerman and his wife, with restrained concertina and flute.
  14. Finally, some rafters get raised with the Jim Boyes song ‘Unison In Harmony’, long associated with Coope Boyes & Simpson. An entirely satisfying end to the set.

Before I heard Earthly Joys, I wasn’t sure how well Rapsquillion’s irresistible charm in a live session or workshop would transfer to CD. But it works very well: what’s lost in spontaneity and humour is regained in vocal depth and dynamic subtlety. The group’s many fans will certainly not be disappointed, and I suspect that the CD will make them more than a few more fans.

David Harley

Artist’s website: https://rapsquillion.co.uk/

‘Street Calls/Sea Coal’ – official video:

THE FLYING TOADS – Warts ‘N All (Own Label)

WartsWarts ‘N All is the second CD by the Flying Toads to come my way. I reviewed the older CD In Stitches a couple of years ago, and it was reviewed by the late Pete Fyfe for this site (and we both liked it a lot). And I can clear up one point he raised: the name Flying Toads is a spoonerism of ‘The Flowing Tide’, an Irish tune featured in the set of hornpipes that makes up the second track on this CD. (The other two tunes being ‘Cooley’s’ and ‘The Wonder’)

The main focus here is on Celtic music, much (but by no means all of it) Irish, and most of the twelve tracks are sets of tunes displaying the band’s ability to bring an impressive range of instrumental skills to bear, taking full advantage of the expanded opportunities the recording studio offers for swapping instruments and counter-melodies within a set.

The band consists of:

  • Val Marciandi – vocals, concertinas, tenor banjo
  • Brian Hirst – cittern, fiddle, vocals
  • Keith Whiddon – tenor banjo, bouzoukis, vocals
  • Erik Faithfull – Uilleann pipes, flute, whistles, vocals

Roger Philby contributes bodhrán to several tracks, as do Nancy Ketchen and Michael Probert on one track each. The main vocals are once again provided by Val, whose strong, rich singing voice is a perfect match for the versatility of the instrumental work within the band.

Since the performances here are consistently excellent, here’s a track-by-track summary rather than a blow-by-blow (or pluck-by-pluck) analysis:

  1. A set of jigs: ‘Stan Chapman’s’, ‘The Black Rogue’, and ‘Australian Waters’.
  2. A set of hornpipes (as listed above).
  3. ‘Bonny Portmore’, a song from 1796 by Ulster harper Daniel Black that has inspired numerous subsequent variations, one of which was the basis for Burns’ ‘My Heart’s In The Highlands’.
  4. A set of slides (a slide is somewhat similar to a jig, but in 12/8): ‘The Miller’s Maggot’, ‘This is my love, do you like her?’, and ‘Micho Russell’s’.
  5. The next track is a set of reels: ‘The Templeglantine’, and ‘Jenny Picking Cockles’, ‘Lillies in the Field’.
  6. Three jigs follow: ‘Palm Sunday’, ‘The Donegal Lass’, and ‘The Handsome Young Maidens’
  7. ‘Wild Rovin” is a Scottish version of a rather well-known song. It takes a certain amount of courage to sing ‘The Wild Rover’ anywhere these days, let alone record it, but this version certainly deserves a listen. For a start, it doesn’t use the overfamiliar “and it’s no, nay, never [thump thump thump thump]” tune, but a rather charming minor melody. The song goes straight into ‘A Bruxa’ (‘The Witch’) – a Galician tune by Antón Seoane – and ‘Medraina’, a “lively dance known as a muñeira … learned from Asturian band Xéliba“.
  8. The next set consists of three Scottish reels (though the first seems to be related to the Irish ‘Blackberry Blossom’): ‘Roddy McDonald’s Fancy’, ‘Islay Rant’, and ‘Barney’s Balmoral’.
  9. This set consists of slip jigs and reels: ‘The Cock And The Hen’, ‘The Humours Of Whiskey’, ‘Tommy Peoples”, and ‘The Lady On The Island’
  10. Track 10 links the polka ‘Ger The Rigger’ with the song ‘Peata Beag Do Mháthar’.
  11. Next comes a set of jigs: ‘Mrs Galvin’s’, ‘Paddy O’Rafferty’, and ‘Pay The Reckoning’.
  12. And finally, another longstanding folk-club favourite, ‘The Parting Glass’, sung with an accompaniment a little more rhythmic than I altogether like for this song, but it does set up Sandy Mather’s reel ‘The Repeal Of The Poll Tax’ nicely.

If you’re familiar with the band’s previous CD or have heard them in concert you’ll expect adept instrumental and vocal work delivered with charm and energy, and that’s exactly what you get. My only slight disappointment is that there are no modern songs this time round. (The earlier album included songs by Archie Fisher and Woodie Guthrie.) Hopefully that side of Val’s vocal talents will continue to be featured in her duo work with Keith as Bouzatina, now that they’re based in Shropshire.

David Harley

Artists’ website: www.flyingtoads.co.uk

‘The Parting Glass’ live:

ANDREW JOHN & LISSA – Aren’t We Lucky (Last Resort Records LRCD011)

aren't we luckyAren’t We Lucky is the second set by Andrew John & Lissa to come my way this year. Whereas At Home was very much an (almost literally) home-brewed production with just a little help from a couple of musical friends on a few tracks, Aren’t We Lucky was recorded in Nashville with support from a wide range of musicians. Don’t expect a country-and-western album, though, despite the reference to Bill Anderson below. Most of the songs here are Andrew’s, and while he’s been living in Denmark for many years, there’s something very English about his story-songs and the way they’re arranged instrumentally.

  • ‘Happiness’ (K.Jönsson/C.V. Meincke/Andrew John) owes nothing to Ken Dodd/Bill Anderson. On the contrary, it’s about lost happiness, and suits Lissa’s vocal very well. There is a slightly ’60s feel about the song, though, with Eastern European-ish strings harmonizing here and there around a minor tune, though the pedal steel behind the bridge brings us back to Nashville. If you remember “Those Were The Days” (or even Leonard Cohen’s take on Lorca with “Take This Waltz“) with affection, you’ll probably take to this.
  • Andrew’s song ‘The Little Light’ refers to “that little light that’s at the bottom of the bottle”, and although it sounds like a classic country theme, Andrew’s typically idiosyncratic lyrics and chord changes are very English: his dramatic vocals perhaps less so.
  • ‘Butcher Boy’ is a traditional song in the “Died For Love” vein. Though this version sets the scene in Dublin, the lead-in from violin and pedal steel reminds us that we’re in Tennessee. Apart from the additional instruments, the arrangement is actually very similar to the piano and voice version on the At Home album I reviewed here earlier in the year. In fact, Lissa sounds more comfortable with the song in this version, and the harmonies on the last two verses are far stronger here.
  • ‘Sensible Shoes’ has a sax intro over a deceptively familiar chord sequence which soon goes off into some of the modulations so typical of an Andrew John song. A very pop-ish arrangement that suits his voice very well and goes out with some stratospheric sax.
  • Andrew’s ‘Diminished Boogie’ includes some agile banjo and harmony vocals that may well remind you of the Andrews Sisters, wrapped around a sequence of diminished chords that may enthral or infuriate you. Kind of clever, though.
  • ‘Twenty Years’ also makes much use of tenor sax and some nice electric guitar. It’s another sharp Andrew lyric with a rock-y arrangement that makes the best of his vocals.
  • There’s also a version of Andrew’s ‘Fiji’ on the At Home album, which gets much of its atmosphere by being dominated by ukulele. The augmented instrumentation on this version, however, benefits from some very upfront, very Hawaiian steel guitar. Either way, it’s a very catchy song with appealing vocals from Lissa.
  • ‘Unattached Love Song’ features Andrew’s vocals and frames his writing skills in a somewhat pre-war tinged arrangement. It’s an interesting song (as all his songs are), but it stretches his voice uncomfortably in the upper registers.
  • ‘All On My Own’ is yet another of Andrew’s songs, with Lissa taking the lead vocals. The arrangement is kind of old-fashioned, but in a pleasing way.
  • Andrew’s ‘Vin’ was co-written with Allen Olsen. Not, as you might think, a paean to French vin rouge, but a story song about “one of those losers that only God can really love” with a look back to some much-missed 60s musical icons.
  • Andrew’s ‘Goodbye To An Old Friend’ is an attractive tune with a lyric that sounds rather personal, though it’s always dangerous to make that assumption, and I couldn’t make out all the words on the second verse. Lissa’s delicate lead vocals work well and are complemented by pleasant chorus harmonies.
  • ‘The Stories I Could Tell’ is a song by Paul Millns – now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time, though when I lived in London I came across him from time to time in very good company. It’s an excellent song, and Andrew makes the best of his vocal abilities by varying between a semi-spoken delivery (I could imagine Mark Knopfler singing this) and hard-hitting double-tracking. Some atmospheric oboe, too.

Fans of Andrew’s writing and the vocal pairing of this engaging duo will not be disappointed.

David Harley

Artist’s website: http://www.anyon.co/

Album medley:

UB40 FEATURING ALI, ASTRO AND MICKEY – Unplugged + Greatest Hits (UMC)

ub40 unpluggedThe Unplugged album (along with the Greatest Hits compilation), by the band calling itself UB40 Featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey, means that UB40’s current status deserves and requires a little clarification.

In 2008, frontman Ali Campbell left the band, followed soon after by keyboard player Mickey Virtue, and in 2013 by percussionist and vocalist Astro. In due course, the three of them were reunited in the line-up represented on the Unplugged CD. Meanwhile, Ali’s brother Duncan replaced Ali as the original band’s vocalist.

There now seem to be two versions of UB40, with some tension between the two bands resulting in a still unresolved legal dispute over the use of the name and some muted verbal sparring on their respective websites.

The Unplugged CD which is the main subject of this review is the work of the three core members of the newer incarnation of the band, Ali, Astro and Mickey, and consists of re-recorded interpretations of hit singles recorded by UB40, or on which UB40 members (especially Ali Campbell) were featured. The Greatest Hits CD, on the other hand, consists entirely (as far as I can tell – I only have promotional copies) of original recordings by the band as it existed for most of its life up to 2008, and which did, of course, also include Ali, Astro and Mickey.

First of all, I’ll look at the Unplugged CD: where an earlier version of a track is featured on Greatest Hits, though, it seems reasonable to compare the two versions rather than consider them in isolation.

  1. ‘Kingston Town’ revisits the 1970 song by Lord Creator which was a hit for UB40 in 1989 and also features on the Greatest Hits CD. The arrangement is essentially a stripped down version of the older version, with guitar taking the lead part and piano taking the rhythm part. The vocal part proves that Ali’s voice hasn’t lost its charm. However, the unplugged recording suffers from the lack of the heavy underlying bass guitar part characteristic of so many reggae recordings (including the 1989 UB40 version). And I don’t think it gains from the extended outro.
  2. Neil Diamond’s song ‘Red Red Wine’, like the older version, owes its reggae flavouring to Tony Tribe’s 1969 version. This update has a ‘toasting’ talk-over by Astro, as did the original version on the 1983 album Labour Of Love. The version found on the Greatest Hits CD seems to be the shorter, toastless1983 single.
  3. Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Many Rivers To Cross’, like the original, has a somewhat gospel-y feel enhanced by the organ backing. It doesn’t reproduce the synthesizer parts or backing vocals of the older version.
  4. This version of Eddy Grant’s ‘Baby Come Back’ doesn’t particularly resemble the Equals version from the ’60s, but revisits the 1994 version by Pato Banton that featured Robin and Ali Campbell, and again features Banton.
  5. Elvis Presley’s ballad ‘(I Can’t help) Falling In Love With You’ was written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss, though the melody is essentially that of ‘Plaisir d’Amour’ by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini (also known as Martini il Tedesco). This re-working follows the 1993 version by UB40 rather than Presley’s (or Martini’s!) – that version is included on the Greatest Hits CD.
  6. ‘Purple Rain’ by Prince, reworks the version by Ali Campbell (previously recorded for Radio Riddler’s Purple Reggae album. It’s not on the Greatest Hits CD.
  7. Sonny Bono’s ‘I Got You Babe’, originally a hit for Sonny and Cher and later a hit for UB40 with Chrissie Hynde, is here re-recorded with Ali’s daughter Kaya Campbell taking the female vocal part.
  8. The first UB40 original on this CD is ‘One In Ten’, a song of social commentary said to refer to a contemporary statistic: 9.6% of the workforce in the West Midlands was said to be claiming benefits in the summer of 1981. It does a good job of expressing the prevailing alienation and polarization of the time. The guitar part lacks expression compared to the atmospheric sax on the original recording, but the harmonies are as strong as ever.
  9. ‘Homely Girl’ is another reworking of a UB40 cover version of the 1974 Chi-Lites hit. However, the jaunty reggae arrangement has more in common with the Inner Circle arrangement. The Unplugged version is notable for substituting some in-your-face but smiley melodica for the subdued synth on the Greatest Hits version.
  10. ‘Please Don’t Make Me Cry’ is a Winston Tucker song originally covered on the Labour Of Love album, and not included on Greatest Hits. This also includes some melodica, presumably played by Astro, and it’s surprisingly effective.
  11. ‘Food For Thought’ was the first UB40 single (that version being included on here on Greatest Hits). On the Unplugged version, the original saxophone parts are approximated on guitar and the vocals seem further forward in the mix. While I miss the sax, I prefer the vocal balance here.
  12. ‘Cherry Oh Baby’ is yet another cover version, this time of a lightweight but very popular song by Eric Donaldson. The lighter arrangement for the Unplugged version allows more focus on the vocal hooks than the version from Labour Of Love (also included on Greatest Hits.
  13. ‘Rat In Mi Kitchen’ was apparently written by Astro about a rat in Ali’s kitchen… Both versions are entirely listenable, but the brass on the Greatest Hits version, including trumpet from Herb Alpert, does give it some extra oomph.
  14. ‘Tyler’, originally recorded on UB40’s 1980 debut album, is based on the disturbing case of Gary Tyler, who served 41 years in prison in Louisiana before being released in 2016. The older version isn’t included on Greatest Hits, but the Unplugged version works very well with its minor melody and plaintive melodica riff.
  15. ‘You Could Meet Somebody’ is a re-recording of a UB40 original originally released on the Rat In The Kitchen album, and not included on Greatest Hits. This is another track with melodica to the fore and pleasant harmonies, though the lead vocal is a little nasal.
  16. ‘That’s Supposed To Hurt’ is from Ali Campbell’s first post-UB40 solo album, Flying High. A pleasant end to the CD.

Many of the tracks on the Greatest Hits compilation were re-recorded for Unplugged, so I won’t consider those tracks again below. The remaining tracks, however, are as follows.

  • ‘Don’t Break My Heart’ was the follow-up to ‘I Got You Babe’. Unusually for this collection, it sounds more New Romantic than reggae.
  • ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’ was written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers of The Miracles, and an early hit for The Temptations. This version, however, is closer to the catchy reggae arrangement by Eric Donaldson.
  • ‘Higher Ground’ is a UB40 original from 1993. Catchy tune and brass arrangement, interesting lyric.
  • ‘Breakfast In Bed’ is 1988 track featuring Chrissie Hynde’s vocals. It’s a cover of a song recorded by Dusty Springfield for her 1969 Dusty In Memphis This is a decent version if you don’t mind the change of rhythm, but for me Dusty’s version is definitive.
  • ‘Here I Am (Come And Take Me)’ is an Al Green song, but with an arrangement modelled (according to Wikipedia) on a version by Irving ‘Al’ Brown.
  • ‘King’ is another UB40 original: good harmonies and a strong lyric relating to Martin Luther King.
  • ‘If It Happens Again’ is another UB40 original, reported to have been written in response to the Conservative party’s election success in 1983, though that isn’t clear from the lyric.
  • ‘Bring Me Your Cup’ is also a UB40 original. Nice brass arrangement.
  • The last track and the last original on the CD, ‘Sing Our Own Song’ has a strongly anti-Apartheid lyrical theme, and provides a rousing finale.

UB40’s Greatest Hits has quite a few songs with which I wasn’t well acquainted. The combined package as a whole offers a good selection of songs associated with UB40. And as a standalone CD, Unplugged is a good introduction to the work of the Ali/Astro/Mickey lineup in the context of the older material, and may hold particular appeal for those who know their recent Silhouette album. But is it successful as a fresh re-imagining of the original recordings? In general, we’re presented with a version of an older arrangement, but modified to adapt to the more limited instrumental palate available to the smaller line-up. In some cases, it works very well – certainly I enjoyed the melodica passages more than I expected. In some other cases, the vocals are more effective than on the original recordings, though sometimes the phrasing seems exaggeratedly ‘reggae’. But I’m not hearing any complete recasts like, for instance, Clapton’s acoustic version of ‘Layla’.

David Harley

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‘Many Rivers To Cross’:

HAT FITZ & CARA – After The Rain (own label)

After The RainThe Australian blues scene is not one I’m particularly well-acquainted with, though I do remember a gig I attended in Fremantle over a decade ago as featuring one of the best electric blues bands I’ve ever heard. However, Hat Fitz and Cara are new to my ears, though their album After the Rain is apparently their fourth. The CD is due for release in the UK on December 5th, 2016. It’s far from being ‘pure’ blues, but it has deep roots in the idiom.

The bulk of the vocals are taken by Cara Robinson, with harmonies and the occasional lead vocal by Hat Fitz (apparently known to Cara as Fitzy, but that seemed a little over-familiar for a reviewer who’s never met them). Cara also plays ‘vintage drums’ and washboard, while Hat plays electric guitar, Beeton resonator guitar, and mandolin. Dave Stephenson adds trombone and trumpet to ‘After The Rain.’ The songs are all credited to Hat Fitz and Cara, and are “inspired by true events of our lives past and present.” Which sounds like the worst kind of rock star self-indulgence, but in fact these are songs that deal with situations with which most of us can identify. No trashed hotel rooms here.

‘Going Home’ has an electric guitar opening strangely reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’, but is lifted by Cara’s powerful vocals and some effective lyrics into a bluesy ballad. As on most of the tracks here, the sparse instrumentation has the drums well to the fore.

‘Doing It Again’ has also been released as a single, with Cara’s vocals solidly supported by mandolin and drums. ‘After The Rain’ again features Cara’s vocals and Hat’s electric guitar, propelled by snare-heavy drumming and sparse brass.

‘Tank Man’ is a boogie-ish piece with overdubbed slide and lead vocals from Hat. If you like Seasick Steve, you may well like this too. The next track, ‘Rosie Hackett’, is actually my favourite: a slow ballad/story song with sensitive slide echoing the vocals, an attractive tune, and restrained percussion. ‘Try’ has a false outro that I found rather wearying, and the ‘real’ call-and-response outro is extended too far for my taste. The guitar is slightly off-pitch in places, too. The recording has an anthemic tone that I suspect works very well live, though.

The lead vocal ‘Won’t Bow Down’ is another boogie-ish piece dominated by Hat’s vocals, interspersed with some evocative wordless chanting. In the slower ‘Running Man’ Cara’s vocals are underwritten by bluesy guitar. The vocal includes some interesting vocal call-and-response effects in a song that I could well imagine as another single. ‘Keep’n On’ includes unison vocals by Cara and Hat, and concludes the album in suitably upbeat style.

I can see – or rather hear – why this duo is so popular: given Cara’s hard-hitting, soulful vocals, it’s not surprising that she has received an Australian Female Blues Vocalist of the Year award, though ‘Rosie Hackett’ shows that she can sing subtly and sensitively too. The songs are generally excellent. The instrumentation, often stripped right down to guitar (or mandolin) and drums, means that the drums are very in-yer-ears. A little too much so for my taste, though I’ve no reservations about Cara’s technique, and the balance is probably just right for live gigs as a duo. And, I suspect, some will find that same emphasis on percussion very danceable.

David Harley

Artist’s website: http://www.hatfitzandcara.com/

‘Doing It Again’ – live and official:

BAP KENNEDY – Reckless Heart (Last Chance Records LCR 048)

reckless heartSadly, singer-songwriter Bap Kennedy died of cancer on the 1st of November 2016, just before his final vinyl and CD album, Reckless Heart, was due for release on the18th November. I knew very little about him before this CD crossed my path, but that probably says more about my limited horizons than anything else, since such names as Mark Knopfler, Van Morrison, Steve Earle and Shane MacGowan have worked with him.

Steve Earle described him as “the best songwriter I ever saw“. ‘The best’ is putting it very subjectively, but this is certainly a set of solidly constructed songs that generally lean towards country rock with simple chord structures and strong lyrical and melodic hooks. My promotional copy of the CD doesn’t include information on where the album was recorded, or the other musicians. In general, the instrumentation is restricted to rhythm and lead guitars, piano, percussion and bass, augmented at times by organ and accordion.

‘Nothing Can Stand in the Way of Love’ is a pacey, pop-y opening to the album with a lead break that opens out nicely into some Richard Thompson-ish double-stop bends.

‘Good as Gold’ is about those moments when things go just right – “Sometimes you hear a beautiful lick, you gotta feeling this could be it, and you know just where to go…” Sounds to me like one of those rare moments in a musician’s life where the fingers are exactly where you wanted them to be.

‘I Should Have Said’ is a wistful, slightly folky (in a strictly non-traditional sense) love song about missed chances.

‘Help Me Roll It’, like several of the other songs, reminds me slightly of Van Morrison: not vocally, but in the use of near-blues forms with modern lyrics and instrumentation. Perhaps it’s also that the backing vocals here remind me of the outro to ‘Chopping Wood’ on Morrison’s Down The Road.

‘Henry Antrim’ is an interesting song (the more so if you know that Henry Antrim was one of the names by which Billy the Kid went). Whether the gunfighter’s story held a particular resonance for Bap Kennedy, who seems to have engaged in his share of hard living, I can’t say. Of course, it’s not uncommon for musicians to feel kinship with outlaws and desperadoes. In any case, when the song says “My name is Henry Antrim, and it’s time to go” there’s a certain poignancy in the timing of the album release.

It’s not only the title of the bluesy ‘Reckless Heart’ that is somewhat reminiscent of Hank Williams: though the arrangement is a little closer to Fats Domino, the middle 8 could have come straight out of the Williams songbook.

While it’s rock and roll guitar that drives ‘Por Favor’, when the accordion comes in, it acquires a hint of zydeco – or perhaps Tejano, given the title of the song.

I suspect that ‘Honky Tonk Baby’ is about his bass-playing wife Brenda. There’s another poignant moment – intended or not – in the chorus when he sings “when you make it, please remember me“.

In the ballad-y ‘The Universe And Me’, he sings of being “down here all alone, just the universe and me.” The lyrics are particularly effective on this one.

The last track, ‘It’s Not Me It’s You’, has nothing to do (as far as I know!) with the Lily Allen album. It’s actually a rockabilly-ish song that captures the same cynical tone that the title implies.

On the artist’s website, we read that Reckless Heart is “the culmination of a lifetime of refining the craft of songwriting. Bap Kennedy delivers nothing less than a timeless album that captures the songwriter at his peak“.

Well, I’m not very familiar with his earlier work, but it does seem to me that some of the tracks on Big Picture and The Sailor’s Revenge are more lyrically complex and benefit from a wider range of instrumentation, though there is plenty of attractive lead guitar and country-ish piano (a little Floyd Cramer-ish in places, which is fine by me) behind Bap Kennedy’s engaging vocals. Still, this is an album that has certainly grown on me, and if I was still playing with covers bands, there are some songs there I’d probably want to take a shot at. At any rate, I’ll certainly be taking a closer look at his earlier albums.

I’ve no doubt that Kennedy fans will want it, and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed: as for the rest of us, it’s a more than pleasant introduction to his work.

David Harley

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Bap Kennedy and his band live in Morbegno, Italy: