Songs Of Dartmoor is Jim Causley’s fourth album of Devon songs, all packaged in matching sleeves designed by Karen Cater. Having previously ranged across Devon, Jim was commissioned to restrict himself to an area bounded roughly by Okehampton to the north and Buckfastleigh to the south-east and has whittled his selection down to twenty titles. He is supported mainly by Matt Norman and Nick Wyke together with a host of vocalists and guest musicians dropping in for a song or two.
Some of the songs will be familiar but I suspect that many will be new to listeners, particularly the poems set to music by Jim himself. He begins in the tradition and that means the Baring-Gould Collection. ‘Adam The Poacher’ was collected as a tune to which the Reverend added his own words. We move forwards to the 20th century with Bob Cann’s rather melancholy ‘Craftsmen Of The Moor’ and ‘Twenty One Years On Dartmoor’ written in 1930 by Bob Miller, despite which it makes it into Roud, having become “traditional” in travelling from the USA. The definitely traditional ‘Blackingstone Ravens’ is a Devon take on ‘Twa Corbies’.
The songs, whether old or new, are full of Dartmoor places and events. ‘Bellever Week’ has both, ‘The Old Lych Way’ has the former and ‘Chagford Show’ the latter. ‘The Dinky Farm Nigh Burrator’ dates from 1916 and comes from the same pen as ‘Down ‘pon Ole Dartymoor’ and ‘Tavvystock Goozey Vair’ which also appear here. Amongst these sits ‘The Archangel Way’ which Jim wrote for a commission celebrating a new pilgrimage route from Brentor to Chagford.
‘Dartmoor POW Medley’ and ‘Song To Lydia’ were written by a prisoner of war in Dartmoor prison. Neither German nor Italian, Joseph Valpey was an American captured by the British, possibly for privateering, in 1792. Legends and ‘orrible deaths abound and if these are to your taste you’ll enjoy ‘Childe The Hunter’, ‘The Hairy Hand’, ‘Jay’s Grave’ and ‘My Lady’s Coach’.
There is a danger that some of these songs – the ones we learned in primary school – might sound a little quaint these days but all are treated with equal seriousness. Personally, I enjoy hearing ‘Tavvystock Goozey Vair’ any time. Jim plays all manner of keyboards and squeezy things and is generous enough to delegate lead vocals, particularly when the song’s author is to hand. Songs Of Dartmoor is one of those albums that you can’t help liking and I do.
Artist’s website: www.jimcausley.co.uk
‘Margaret Of Oxenham’ – from Devonia despite the picture: