GREN BARTLEY – Songs To Scythe Back The Overgrown (FELLSIDE FECD247)

When Tom Kitching and Gren Bartley went their separate ways after a successful partnership there was a feeling of inevitability about the directions they took. Tom formed Pilgrim’s Way and stuck with mostly traditional material and now Gren has taken the solo singer-songwriter route. Songs To Scythe Back The Overgrown is his debut.

Gren claims the album came to him a dream; a dream which included being offered loads of money by Kate Rusby and presumably a guest appearance by Joni Mitchell who’s ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’ is the only non-Bartley composition. The songs are coloured by the traditions he grew up with so ‘My Time Is Nearly Over’ has a gospel-blues structure, ‘Slow Train’ is a blues with a British accent and ‘Kings And Queens’ feels almost like a traditional English song. He plays guitar, banjo, slide guitar and a little harmonica and is supported by Andy Whittle on keyboards and harmonica, Katriona Gilmore on violin and vocals and Robert Hallard on backing vocals but no-one is overused.

There’s something of Martin Simpson in Gren’s vocals and the way he sidles up to a song and gives it space. ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’ is a perfect example of this as, over a solo guitar accompaniment, Gren muses on loneliness and the mundane realities of life. This was an intensely personal song for Joni, reflecting on her short-lived marriage, but Gren makes it work so it could almost be about two friends separated by time and distance.

Gren has made an excellent debut with this record and has proved himself again to be a fine songwriter as well as a skilled interpreter of other people’s songs.

Dai Jeffries

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