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Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX388

Over the years, I have had the good fortune to listen to almost every CD that this great man has brought out. And I can honestly say that I have never had that empty feeling one can occasionally get with even the most lauded of performers, where it is clear that they have been running on empty during the making of that album.

And here, yet again, Archie delivers in spades, with this album recorded by Matthew Zimmerman, at Wild Sound, Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is his first new album in 7 years: and at 76 his voice sounds like that of a man half his age.

The CD contains a lovely blend of the self-penned, the traditional, and some decent songs from contemporary writers. Several tracks give us just Archie’s voice and guitar, but others feature accompaniment from Luna Skye (cello), Linda Richard (the sweetest of harmony vocals), Philip Masure (guitar), Isaac Alderson (flute), Rob Norris (bass) and Joel Sayles (bass).

Kirsty McGee’s No Way To Treat A Friend shows that Archie has not lost his gift for sniffing out good contemporary songwriters; and that prolific Glaswegian songwriter Ian Davison’s A River Like You is boosted by delicious harmony singing from Linda Richard. (It is no surprise to discover that she does workshops on harmony singing!)

Great to hear a Richard Berman song, The Gifts. Berman’s songs deserve airplay and covering this side of the Pond: he is scandalously unknown to many of the Folk cognoscenti here.

Archie ends with The Parting Glass: no, not the traditional Clancy Brothers’ favourite that has been recorded by all-and-sundry since the current Pope was an altar boy, but a separate song of the same title by Judy B Goodenough. I note Archie says in his notes “written and composed by” her: in truth whilst the melody is different, it borrows fairly heavily from the original...and the lyrics too are somewhat redolent of the original (maybe that is why Archie has added a verse of his own).

And needless to say, he places it in between her two verses, and it becomes the standout verse of the song. But’d surely expect nothing less. This man knows how to deliver.

But the best song on the album, is one I learned at my mother’s knee: Maxwellton Braes. Archie calls it by its more usual title, Bonnie Annie Laurie. I have loved this song all my life.

Nearly 30 years ago the BBC Radio 4 started its daily transmission with the now much-missed Radio 4 UK Theme. This was an inspired selection of melodies, arranged by Fritz Spiegl, to represent our four component parts of the Union. And although as a Welshman I should have said my heart was lifted daily with the Welsh representative, Men Of Harlech, in truth it was not. It was the Scottish representative, Bonnie Annie Laurie, that put the smile on my face and made me ready for the busy day ahead.

And if I say that Archie’s was the first version of this gem that did not make me hanker for the late great Ian Wallace and Kenneth McKellar, then you will know that no praise is higher.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 111 of The Living Tradition magazine.