ANDREW J NEWALL – Janus (own label AJN2019CD)

JanusAndrew J Newall describes this album as being composed of the songs he’s known for when performing live. Some of them have been souped up a bit by a fine band but Janus is the sort of Scottish album I usually welcome. There are original compositions, covers and traditional songs with a couple of firm favourites notably ‘Raglan Road’ and ‘Road To Dundee’.

The latter, which opens the set, is one of the souped up songs beginning with keys and violin and the voice of the young lassie seeking guidance. As you know, she was fortunate that the singer was a chivalrous fellow. Andrew takes it at a fair pace – many singers treat it wistfully which is nice but this is different. Second is ‘The Falling Out’, an original with a country tinge that also features Rachel Smith rapping the other half of the argument. It will make you sit up and take notice. ‘The Loch Tay Boat Song’ is semi-traditional and ‘The Water Is Wide’ is the real thing although Andrew takes it far too fast for my taste.

‘The Annie Jane’ is another original, a story based on Andrew’s father who left Barra to go to sea at the age of sixteen. Fortunately he returned, unlike the protagonist of this song who went down with the Annie Jane and all hands. I wish I knew more about Jeff MacDonald who wrote ‘Distance’, a song about the sadness of working away from home, but sharing your name with a notorious murderer doesn’t give you much of a chance on Google.

Next, Andrew follows Burns’ ‘John Anderson, My Jo’ with The Saw Doctors’ ‘Share The Darkness’. The juxtaposition might be a shock but Andrew’s sensitive treatment of both negates that. It would be perfectly unremarkable in a club set with some chat in between. ‘Liberty’s Sweet Shore’ tells of the clearances which were particularly severe on Barra – Gross Isle, mentioned in the first verse, is in the mouth of the St Lawrence. Andrew gets romantic with his own ‘Holding You Close’ and a lovely reading of ‘Raglan Road’ decorated by Seonaid Aitken’s violin. Nostalgia creeps in with ‘My Donegal’, ‘Memories Of You’, which draws on the stories Andrew’s grandfather would tell, and ‘Come By The Hills’. There won’t be a dry eye in the house.

Finally, we have the bluesy ‘Whisky And Coke’, which is, I suppose, the non-too-serious encore. I’ve enjoyed Janus, although I do think that Andrew has tried a bit too hard in one or two places, but I’d like to hear it in a live setting which is where it really belongs.

Dai Jeffries