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BOB LESLIE - Land And Sea

BOB LESLIE - Land And Sea
Big Red Records BIGRED3

I had not come across Bob’s previous two solo albums before receiving his third solo CD for review, and glancing at the backing musicians, I spotted the name of Wendy Weatherby, and immediately took that as some sort of sign, since I have long admired her gifts as a cellist, and I knew that she would not hitch her wagon to a clapped-out horse. And so it proved: Bob Leslie is a horse with plenty of life in him. The question is though: is he a carthorse or a thoroughbred? And before I give you my answer, let me tell you about the album.

It is a collection of self-penned songs that for much of the album look back on often long-gone events and people. They have lyrics written in the folk idiom using melodies that match them in authenticity... albeit without in the main being particularly memorable. He sings in a strong pleasant baritone voice, and his four female backing musicians really deliver the goods.

Toward the end of the album, he throws in a couple of more light hearted numbers, Her Father Called Me Frankenstein and Big Dead Bob. The former was the track of the album, for me, and had me laughing out loud.

Not that his serious songs did not have their lighter moments. His Sir Alexander Leslie tells the story of a Scot I had never heard of: a fellow who blazed a trail to Imperial Russia, to serve the Tsar of the day, and eventually became governor of Smolensk. (It brought to mind the story of a Welshman also commandeered by a Tsar, who was the founder of Donetsk: the clue is in that city’s previous name...Hughesovka. John Hughes.) And this song on Alexander Leslie (any relation, Bob?) is an interesting description of a remarkable free spirit, and he uses the chorus to cleverly turn it into a celebration of those many generations of Scots prepared to up-sticks and make their mark all over the world. (Indeed one set of my grandparents moved from Dysart to my native Rhondda Valley, so in a way I am a product of this same spirited attitude.) And like I said, although a serious song, Bob uses some artistic licence in the last verse to really make me chuckle.

Of the slow, looking-back-on-yesteryear ballads though, it is the opener that most convinces. The World Came To Springburn tells well the story of the de-industrialisation of Springburn in North Glasgow, (though it could be about anywhere: my native Rhondda had 41 collieries when I was born, and now has none). And it contains these biting lines: “Westminster’s man said he’d solve all the problems / But you’d hardly credit anything he’d say / He was down in London climbing / Up the ladder to a lordship / With Springburn just a step along his way”.

The man can write, alright. And so, that said, what did I decide about his talent? Well, let me just sum it up by saying that I don’t know that I would buy this album, but I might buy his next.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 121 of The Living Tradition magazine.