HICKS AND GOULBOURN – Immortal (Striatum Records 140716)

ImmortalA first glance at the track listing here and you might wonder how Immortal is going to work but it all fits together quite smoothly. Steve Hicks is guitar maker and player and Lynn Goulbourn is a singer and songwriter, who also plays guitar, and their talents mesh together well. Even so, there are some surprises.

They start with ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ but not the dirge it can sometimes turn out to be. This is a high energy reading of the song based on Doc Watson’s version although even Watson didn’t rock it quite like this. It does give Steve to showcase his guitar playing from the outset. They immediately change the mood with Jim McLean’s ‘Hush Hush’ – a song about the Highland Clearances and set to the tune ‘The Mist Covered Mountain’ that has done the rounds including a notable version by Dick Gaughan. Lynn’s warm tones suit it well and it doesn’t sound too English. The mood is maintained in the title track, written by Lynn, in which Steve speaks the lyrics over a Latin vocal line by Lynn and Kim Lowings who appears on other tracks on mountain dulcimer and keyboards.

Steve’s guitar comes to the fore again with a couple of 14th century Italian tunes with Kim playing the harpsichord continuo. Then come two more of Lynn’s songs. I’m not taken with ‘This Is The Friend’ which combines reggae and ragtime but ‘The Secret Tree Of Gotham’ is pure folk-rock and Steve works snatches of traditional tunes into his breaks. For me it gets a bit weird now. Pentangle’s ‘So Clear’ is gorgeous but I wouldn’t want ‘Cry Me A River’ on an album even if does show off Lynn’s voice and range to best effect. Next, ‘The Reincarnation Of Ratboy’ is a jazz guitar solo and that’s followed by a soulful version of ‘Jesus Was A Bootlegger’. I mean, what is going on?

Finally we have Lynn’s humorous ‘The Forst Geordie’ blended with a guitar version of ‘Blaze Away’. If this were a live set it would be a perfect ending and everyone would go home feeling that they had a good night out but for a studio album there is a suspicion that Steve and Lynn have tried too hard for variety. I can understand that – a homogeneous set of songs can get boring very quickly and Immortal is never boring.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.hicksandgoulbourn.com

‘This Is The Friend’ live: