JOHN HINSHELWOOD – Called Back (Littleroots Records LRCD 1006)

Called BackI’ve never read the poetry of Emily Dickinson, although she is somewhat revered now. During her lifetime she was regarded as an eccentric – what poet isn’t? – and her fame only came posthumously. John Hinshelwood is a Scottish singer-songwriter who has departed from his usual style to compose music for eleven Dickinson poems, released now as Called Back. He has gathered together fourteen musicians and singers including Laura-Beth Salter, Ed McGlone, Tim Black, Frank McHugh and Cathryn Craig. This is a big cast but used so delicately to enhance but not dominate the words.

John opens and closes the album with two instrumentals: ‘Let It Breathe’ and ‘Called Back’; both titles taken from Emily’s surviving correspondence. The first is a lovely tune led by Dave Currie’s Dobro and Salter’s mandolin, a delicate country glide and the mood is continued by Colin Macfarlane’s lap steel on ‘The Sun’. John has truncated the title, which seems a little unnecessary, but has left the words well alone. In fact, he’s messed with most of the titles to a greater or lesser extent.

‘Beauty And Truth’ swaps slides for fiddle, still with a country vibe but ‘To See Her…’ moves into smooth jazz with decoration from James Steele’s tenor sax. ‘Hunger’ is modern sounding country-rock – who knew that Emily Dickinson could sound like this? – before ‘The Return’ and ‘Hope’ move again towards jazz. At the hinge comes a third instrumental, ‘Something Precious?’, its title again taken from Dickinson’s writing.

‘Goblin Bee’ was originally ‘If You Were Coming In The Fall’ and although the new title may grab the attention I don’t really care for it. We’re back in the country mood for this one with lovely double-bass from David Bowden and Salter’s mandolin taking the high road. ‘The Wind’s Visit’ begins with the strident notes of Alex Sharples’ trumpet – Alex is a founder member of Glasgow’s big jazz band, Fat Suit – that I could listen to all day long. ‘Judgement Day’ is pretty much a bluegrass tune and I love Dickinson’s spiky words summed up as “I don’t like Paradise”. ‘The Wind’ is pared back acoustic with Macfarlane’s lap steel again and Craig’s powerful harmony vocals with, penultimately, ‘Murmur’ returning to the big band sound.

There is so much to enjoy in this record and as I listened I couldn’t help thinking how The Band blended their country-rock with brass on Rock Of Ages. John Hinshelwood has done something similar with Called Back but kept his foot on the soft pedal as befits the subject of these songs.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

John Hinshelwood sings a selection of his Emily Dickinson settings: