I’m sure that Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll won’t mind me saying that they have taken a big step with this album – they all but admit it themselves. Their previous outing was built on rural poetry from their native Devon but Cold Light is as far from that as you could imagine. The name of their label gives you a clue to their first love but their musical palette is much expanded, not only by what they play but by the instruments that their guests bring with them.
The sequencing of the album follows their familiar pattern with eight of the thirteen tracks being instrumentals so the opening track is a tune of Becki’s, ‘The Knitting Reel’, which is decidedly funky and that comes as something of a surprise. Next is Nick’s song, ‘Who’s Crying Now?’. Wow. This is a song about struggling with addiction; it’s a big song and Nick brings a big voice to it – mightily impressive.
Traditional music finally gets a grip with two traditional tunes, ‘Tie The Petticoat Tighter’ and ‘The Triumph’. Both have their origins in the West Country although the latter is well known as a dance tune all over the country. ‘Halo’ is Becki’s song about abuse – but it seems clear to me that it’s about sexual abuse and the church in particular. I’m sure Becki will tell me if I’m wrong. By now you’re probably settled in but ‘La Folia’ will unsettle you again. Here we have a stately old European musical form given a modern Latin twist.
The only traditional lyric comes with a version of ‘Riddles Wisely Expounded’. Nick and Becki have provided a new tune and an extraordinary arranged topped by Josh Westrip’s trumpet and David Faulkner’s English bagpipes. The title track is a gorgeous tune by Becki leading into her song, ‘Winter’. The two fit together perfectly. The last song is another original, ‘The Last Waltz Of The Evening’, a tribute to the dead of two world wars and Nick and Becki give it a classic, almost theatrical, treatment with trumpet, flugelhorn, French horn and accordion. Just so we don’t go home sad they finish with the bouncy ‘Boscastle Breakdown’.
Cold Light is a surprising album in many ways. It feels as though Nick and Becki have completed their apprentice piece, placed it in front of us and said “what do you think of that, then?”. Me, I like it.
Young Jim Causley returns once more to the writing of his distinguished relative, Charles. I Am The Song, unlike the serious and sometimes mysterious Cyprus Well, is a collection of poetry written for children. As you might suppose many of the songs are quite short and Jim crams twenty-one of them onto the record. Equally, you might suppose that the poems are funny to the point of silliness and to an extent you would be correct but there are dark moments and the humour sometimes conceals a serious point.
The set opens with ‘Python On Piccolo’, a song about animals forming a band and typical of the surreal images in some of Charles’ poetry also represented by ‘Good Morning Mrs Croco-Do-Dile’, ‘Tabitha Tupper’ and ‘Mrs McPhee’. Next comes a bit of social observation in the shape of ‘Newlyn Buildings’ although the line “who had the top apartment no-one ever seemed to know” adds a frisson of mystery. ‘Here We Go Round The Roundhouse’ is a calendar song that will creep into the club repertoire before long I have no doubt.
Of the darker songs, ‘Lord Lovelace’ leads the way followed by ‘Lady Jane Grey’ and ‘A Mermaid At Zennor’, although Charles steers clear of being too explicit about the fate of the titular lady in the former or the churchwarden’s son in the latter. My personal favourite is ‘I Saw A Jolly Hunter’ which will make children laugh but says a lot about Charles’ views.
Jim’s accordion arrangements provide an appropriately jolly West Country lilt to the poems but he is exceptionally generous to his friends, notably Becki Driscoll and Nick Wyke, Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham and Mick Ryan who take a share of the lead vocals. Nick manages the most excruciatingly perfect flat notes on ‘The Money Came In’. Other players include Jeff Gillett who provides most of the finger-picked guitar, Matt Norman who plays various banjos and Mary Humphries and Anahata.
Charles Causley said that he could never decide which poems were for children and which for adults and this collection will prove that. The standard omission is ‘Timothy Winter’ which was included in the children’s collection but only because Jim recorded it on Cyprus Well. Buy this for the kids just before they grow out of nursery rhymes or buy it for yourselves because you’ll enjoy it too.
Perhaps its Moray’s numerous tales of brushes with death on previous recordings that inspired him to use the collective noun for foxes ‘Skulk’ as the title of his latest CD. Or maybe you’ve just seen the series “Whitechapel” on TV? Whatever the reason, his opening choice of song “The Captain’s Apprentice” is a brooding piece of work that would settle comfortably alongside any recording by June Tabor and I certainly applaud the unsettling choice of piano chords on a stark background of saxophone used for its texture rather than as a melody. This really is an unpretentious, Gothic piece of dramatic theatre that wouldn’t sound out of place as the soundtrack to a David Lynch or David Cronenberg movie and will doubtless send shivers down the spine of anyone who purports to have a soul. For this track alone I’d personally give the album a ten but than that would be to dismiss this young man’s ability to turn his hand to more or less any genre of music he cares to utilise for his excursions. He makes no bones that the ‘traditional’ emphasis of his outpourings is his main preference of ingredient but in using a heady mixture of jazz, rock and classical the scatter-gun approach will hopefully expand the confines an audience made-up of primarily ‘folk’ music enthusiasts. This album may not be to everyone’s taste; perhaps a little too maudlin for most but I urge you to think again because any ‘craftsman’ that can make you go straight to your computer to check out the original version of Anais Mitchell’s (www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IOeGyD4zUA) “If It’s True” has done his job superbly well. I’d finally like to credit the tremendous sleeve photos of Sorrel The Fox (held with loving care by Moray) taken by the ever imaginative David Angel. If you’re an animal lover or just love good music you’ll love this recording.
At least young Causley is thinking outside the box, even if it is by reflecting in song his local county of which he is justifiably proud. Come to think of it let’s have a show of hands for those of you who agree. As he states in his sleeve-notes he’s steered clear of the more established Devon songs and in doing so brings a wealth of lesser-known material to his audience. I’m pleased to say that he’s not averse to giving credit where credit’s due and opens with “When I Was Young” passed on through the aural tradition by Paul Wilson. As he rightly states, this pleasant ballad should take its place among the more popular of the ‘established’ songs and, who knows, if enough tradition bearers latch onto it, it will. Surrounding himself with an august bunch of musicians including Nick Wyke & Becki Driscoll, Tom & Barbara Brown and The Dartmoor Pixie Band his vocals are mostly unmannered unlike a plethora of recent artists whose names immediately spring to mind. There is much to admire in his diligent research and much to thank for his inquisitive nature in putting together a selection of songs that through the passage of time may well become as popular as the standards he has tried to avoid.