This is an important album of songs written by England 's greatest living songwriter. Best songwriter not just in the Folk genre, but probably in ANY you want to name. So it is vital that I attempt in this review to do it justice: for I doubt if a more significant album will have been released all this year.
Let me first explain the raison d'être for it. Better still, I will let Leon do it. He says in his liner notes: "For over forty years, I've been writing songs and sending them out into the word through the medium of my own rather limited voice [so] it occurred to me that, why not a whole album of other singers interpreting my songs?"
Well, he has assembled a stellar cast of performers (and assuredly NONE of them has a "limited voice"!), and asked them to pick any song they liked, with the proviso that they had not previously recorded the song. And pick an interesting selection of his songs they indeed do: and best of all, they have all latched on to the key word in his request. They have INTERPRETED the songs, and not just COVERED them (in a "Tonight Matthew, I am Leon Rosselson" -style).
Some of the interpretations are very bold: none bolder than David Campbell's ‘Stand Up For Judas’. Almost every track pays its rent on the album, but my highlights were Elizabeth Mansfield's gloriously uninhibited ‘Don't Get Married Girls’, Janet Russell's deeply moving ‘Song Of The Olive Tree’, Roy Bailey's ‘William’ and one more number. (In fact that "one more" was a version of his most popular song, ‘The World Turned Upside Down’.)
Now I thought the chewing gum may have lost its flavour here. I could have bet my shirt that yet another singer would not have got an inch-more-mileage out of it. But had I done so, I would have been bare-chested now. For Robb Johnston comes at the song with real imagination, and really delivers.
Of course the 15 songs are not quite the same fifteen that I would have picked: it is impossible to totally please everyone. (And anyway it is not supposed to be " Leon 's fifteen greatest songs": had they been, then songs like ‘That's Not The Way It's Got To Be’ and my-all-time favourite Rosselson song ‘Do You Remember?’ would surely have featured.)
But finally, despite my plaudits, I feel compelled to say that nobody sings ‘Rosselson’ like Rosselson. What gives his songs their extra potency is that his next-door-neighbour's voice makes us concentrate on the SONG and not the singer. Here with these fifteen solid-to-very fine voices, there is the occasional tendency for us to marvel at the VOICE, at the expense of marvelling at the SONG.
It brings to mind an album of the songs of the late Jacques Brel sung by Scott Walker. What a great voice that American had! But nobody sang Brel's songs better than the Belgian, even though he was blessed with a quarter of Walker 's vocal gift from God.