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Private Label RUTTCD024

This is the first solo release from a singer and musician mainly known for his work in other people’s bands (Seth Lakeman, Jackie Oates) and he’s chosen to do it with just him singing or accompanied by one instrument (guitar, bouzouki, duet concertina) in one take. Although his description of it as “stripped-down” did remind me of Packie Byrne describing to me how he had recorded his Topic LP, Songs Of A Donegal Man, in one lunch-hour! A brave move for a first outing. So does it work? Absolutely.

Jack has a clear, warm voice (across the whole of its range) and a performance style which is uncluttered and free from idiosyncrasies. The accompaniments are beautifully constructed and played – never getting in the way of the song, but supporting and building it. He has chosen some interesting and varied material, usually with a strong narrative element, influenced by the ethos of Martin Carthy – get strong songs and work them into something even stronger. An example is Hares On The Old Plantation, based on the version from Wiggy Smith: he misses out one of the early repetitive verses and adds two extra at the end. Would Wiggy have done this? Well, I remember one time talking with him about a song his late wife Myra used to sing, Thorneymore Woods. For months after that, Wiggy tried to add two of the verses into his version (even though they were different length and scansion!) before dropping them. So for him the song wasn’t a fixed entity. He’d have loved the extra verse about being in the pub, but I can’t imagine him ever sitting in “quiet contemplation”! It’s a lovely reworking of the song with excellent results. It would be great to hear Jack tackle one of the “big” ballads - there's not many who would do them justice, but I'm sure he would.

As with all the material, he sings them as songs, not as “folk songs”. This is an album I have already returned to a number of times – and expect to do so many more. I can think of no better introduction of this material to a new generation who has yet to discover these songs.

Paul Burgess

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