Steve Ashley Time and Tide (Topic)
I am indebted to Steve himself for the time he put into ensuring that I heard what he believes to be his finest album to date. It had been inadvertently left behind when I started the complicated series of moves that led me to Abu Dhabi. Happily, a spare copy was waiting when I briefly popped back to the UK.
Ashley will not complain if I say that his work is unlikely to find a slot on the Easy Listening shelves. These are, for the most part, serious songs and they require close attention. But the effort is repaid over and again; Ashley is strong on environmental issues, and also displays plenty of joined-up thinking on war (Still Waiting and Ships of Shame).
There isn't a better song on the album than Down the Line, the story of Ashley's grandfather, a railway signalman killed on the line all of 87 years ago. But you will struggle to find a weak link anywhere on this impressive, thoughtful and musically literate record.
* Studio credits: Steve Ashley (
vocals, acoustic guitars, mouth organ, drum, bells, whistles, producer); Dik Cadbury (bass, five-string fretless, keyboard, percussion, backing vocals, engineering, mix down); Robert Kirby (orchestration); Chris Leslie (fiddle, mandolin); Paul Manning (piano accordion); Simon Nicol (guitar); Dave Pegg (bass guitar, mandolin); Tommy Scott (piano, drums, keyboard, engineering); Martin Mitchell (engineering, final mix down, mastering); Staccato Strings (violins, viola, cello); Steve Trigg (trumpets); Robin Williamson (harp); John Wilshaw (hurdy gurdy).
The name of Ruth Notman entered my consciousness during conversations with Kate Rusby for articles posted at Salut! Live and her own website. A recommendation from her carries a lot of weight in these parts, but since she'd also praised Ronan Keating when we spoke, I wondered whether the phrase "fantasic, really special" might turn out to be an exaggeration of the Nottingham teenager's talents.
It was not. Threads presents conclusive proof of the health of British folk; it is packed with more maturity and style than could reasonably be expected from a girl of 18. The singing, acccompanied by Notman on guitar, piano and harp and supported by a strong studio team*, is pure and instantly attractive, with a slight tremolo providing a charmingly individualistic touch. If a quick look at the track listing raises doubts about the need for yet more versions of Dougie MacLean's Caledonia and the Richard Thompson classic Farewell Farewell, the delivery is powerful enough to make both worthy inclusions. Notman's respect for her key inspirations - notably Nic Jones, Eliza Carthy, Martin Carthy and June Tabor - is evident throughout a stunning debut.
* Studio credits: Saul Rose (melodeon); Hannah Edmonds (cello); Roger Wilson (fiddle); Bella Hardy (vocal harmony); Ich Mowatt (guitar, banjo, keyboards, bass, co-producer); Joe Heap (drums, co-producer); Jim Walker (fiddle); Danny Hughes (guitar); Rachel Doherty, Elizabeth Foan, Bethany Mofat and Amy Periam (choral voices).
**** Reviews of Wendy Arrowsmith and the Duncan McFarlane Band to come****