Maddy Prior: in delightfully rude voice
The Grehan Sisters: a short rediscovery

Chris Foster: hot stuff from Iceland to the desert

Picture: Tyler Cartner
Chris Foster Outsiders (Green Man Productions)

If Maddy Prior's new album took me back to an encounter on the fringes of a folk club, Chris Foster succeeds in dragging me inside - even if his CD is called Outsiders.

It is as if he has been asked to sit down and compile the running order of the quintessential set for a solo folk performer of the thoughtful rather than showman kind. Anger, defiance, humour, love, social'll find all of that and more.

On reflection, perhaps my imaginary guest artist would not have kicked off with a 21-verse ballad, Foster's masterly jigsaw job on Lord Bateman assembled from various versions he has heard or researched. But the end result is still an intensely rewarding hour - the album, not the song! - in the company of a singer who knows the value of balance and variety.

From the the romantic imagery of Lord Bateman, pursued across the seas and snatched from his bride's embrace by a Turkish beauty met on earlier travels, Foster moves on to Leon Rosselson's powerful Song of the Olive Tree, a desperately sad tale recounting Israel's brutal destruction of Palestinian community.

Rosselson was genuinely upset when I suggested that an album of his songs by other artists failed, for me, because they were not sung by him. Perhaps he will accept this as a branch from my own olive tree: Foster's interpretation is exemplary.

Thank heavens Foster thought it worth going to the trouble of dispatching a copy from his unlikely country of residence - Iceland - to mine, the UAE. Virtually every track - see them listed below - is a winner.

I am especially fond of his surprising take on Brother Can You Spare a Dime?; another big British ballad, Sir Aldingar and Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos), Woody Guthrie's lament for illegal immigrants killed in a plane crash as they were being flown back to Mexico from California. Deportee was a staple in the repertoires of floor singers and guests back in those early folk club days of mine. And there is levity in the form of lively jig adapted for guitar.

It is not the easiest of albums with which to become acquainted, but has those indefinable qualities that allow it to grow ever more familiar and compelling. I cannot say this of every record I review, but Outsiders will be part of my listening regime long after this appreciation has slipped into Salut! Live's archives.

Track listings:

Lord Bateman; Song of the Olive Tree; The False Bride; Cod Banging/Oscar Woods’ Jig; Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos); Sir Aldingar; Bedlam; The Man You Don’t Meet Every Day; Brother Can You Spare a Dime?; The Cruel Mother; Trespassers Will Be Celebrated.

Engineer: Joe Broughton
Musicians: Val Regan, fiddle and vocals; Trevor Lines, double bass, hammer dulcimer and bass hammer dulcimer; Bára Grímsdóttir, kantele and vocals; Ruth Angell, viola and fiddle; Laura Fiddaman, cello; Fraser Speirs, harmonica; Joe Broughton, mandolin.


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