PHIL HOOLEY – Provenance (own label)

ProvenanceFrontman with Yorkshire alt-country outfit The Woolgatherers, Provenance is Hooley’s second solo outing, the material varying between recent and dusted off older numbers, joined here by fiddler Jim Van Cleve and assorted sessioneers on piano and bass. Like his debut this is a slow and often moody affair, the jazz fiddle and piano-based ‘Casualty’ opening proceedings, a  late night jazzy blues about someone who’s not as confident as they appear, a snapshot of a woman who comes on to a guy only to have him back off, intimidated perhaps by her forwardness, the mask she wears to conceal her vulnerability. A similar early hours piano blues  vibe can also be found on ‘Matter Of The Heart’ with its observation on the scars and bruises love can bring (“I may be guilty but I don’t feel any shame/You know in my eyes we are both to blame/I may be the villain but it wasn’t all in vain”).

Hooley on harmonica, ‘The Key’ is a mid-tempo song about spreading your wings (“Gonna ride on that railroad, head on down the track/And I’ll live like some hobo, and never come back”) but never straying too far from the nest “cos you hold the key to my heart” “The higher you fly you know the further you fall”.

The simply strummed ‘Some Say’ strikes a personal note with a fond memory of a friend and musical inspiration who succumbed to alcoholism, setting the views of others (“Some say he was a drunken man, some say he was a fool/Some say it was a selfish thing for a man like that to do”) against his own memories of “that sweet old guitar playing and his voice that I still hear”.

The tempo picks up for the jauntier ‘If Only’ with Pete Norman on upright bass, a musing on memories and regrets (“If broken hearts were made of china or clay/We’d gather up the pieces and put them safely away/Then one rainy day when we’ve nothing better to do/We’d take out all those fragments and fix ‘em, good as new”). Elsewhere, notable highlights include the lazing tumbleweeds country  of ‘Magdalena’, the fiddle coloured, slow ragtime blues lost love ‘Words’ (“The sun may rise tomorrow, but I see a storm ahead/As I think how I watched you walk away/And all those words I never said…I remember I took for granted somehow you’d always be there/But my dreams all fell on stony ground just like a doubter’s prayer”) and, in a similar musical vein, the lazy swing ‘Trouble’ that’s right out of the Leon Redbone Tin Pan Alley song book.

After songs about relationships and matters of the heart, it ends on a protest note with the anti-war sentiments of ‘The Veteran’s Song’, arranged for guitar, fiddle and Corbin Keep’s cello, with its theme of the hypocrisy of remembering the dead while always ready to start another conflict (“So remember me with your flowers of red/If it helps you sleep soundly in your bed”) as, on a dying note he sings “Your path of glory brings no reward/So let me be the last one to fall”. Provenance is not a foot tapper perhaps but one to curl up with at the end of a day and let it slowly seep into the bloodstream.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘If Only’ – live: