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Hatsongs Records HAT021 

Raw, succeeding December and Faraway People, marks the final instalment in Reg’s trilogy of albums conceived in response to those who’ve seen him performing live and want to hear exactly that, just his voice and one instrument, for maximum direct concentration on his songs. On Raw, that instrument tends to be Reg’s treasured restored 1944 Martin 017 guitar (punctuated on three tracks with splashes of harmonica) – or alternatively banjo (Stay, Moving On) or Appalachian dulcimer (The Coalminers’ Song). The album’s slightly retro ultra-pared-down feel is down to the simple, honest production (by Reg’s old friend from the 70s, Geoff Hocking from Devon), while the songs themselves radiate an inescapable air of good-old-fashioned craftedness that can readily evoke (but never mimic) the troubadour-folk of early Dylan, Donovan and Paxton.

However, Reg’s smooth, melodious, accessible and relatively gentle style can prove deceptive, especially on hard-hitting political commentaries like We Looked Away or on harrowing lessons-to-learn-from-history songs like The Coalminers’ Song. While Reg’s musical language is congenial, there’s no questioning his deep concern for the plight of ordinary people as he discusses issues from their perspective. Thematically, Reg’s songs are genuinely all-encompassing. Romance and relationships are eloquently explored, from tender entreaty (From Now On, Stay) to heartbreak and break-up (Broken, Moving On and the honky-tonk-flavoured Our Love Has Turned To Hate); there’s wishful, wistful delicacy too (9 O’Clock Angel, If She’s The One). Creative reimaginings of episodes in the lives of famous figures (Shelley’s Heart) and tales from local history (The Crossbones Graveyard, The Chainmakers, The Eyes Of Ida Lewis) are balanced with slice-of-life-observation-with-a-twist (Our Street, Gene Vincent Jnr & Billy The Kid).

On the evidence of the Raw trilogy alone (let alone its illustrious predecessors), Reg would be assured a place in the pantheon of great folk songwriters of our time.

David Kidman


This review appeared in Issue 131 of The Living Tradition magazine