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BOB WOOD - After The Swithering

BOB WOOD - After The Swithering
Timber Records TBR002/2

It may come as a surprise to the general reader who is a non-reviewer, that whilst a reviewer's opinions must – as a given - always be totally honest (and thus can never be bought by an artiste or his label), they can still indeed be influenced, before the CD even gets its initial play.

And the best way to influence them, is to make that reviewer feel as he takes the CD out of its jiffy bag, that he is handling precious cargo.

And that is what I felt here, as I respectfully took this beautifully presented Digipak in both hands, with its front cover depicting a sketching of a guitarist at work...a striking art work, from the hand of Rachel Gadsden. She is also responsible for the always simpatico art work that provides nothing less than the icing on the cake for the elegant 12 page liner booklet, with its very informative notes and various guitar tunings.

So, you get my drift. Somehow I just knew that the contents would not be lightweight and instantly forgettable. But if that was not enough, there was Bob's choice of title...After The Swithering. Somehow the title of a CD can also work on a reviewer's subconscious. Yes, we all know it shouldn't, but it does. I am sad I never reviewed Bob's fine previous album, as had I done so, I would have found its title (When The Moon Sits Fat On A Scudding Cloud) had knocked me for six with its lyrical image.

And this title (After The Swithering), worked its magic too. Not providing the same beauty in the image perhaps, but leaving in the mind of the reviewer/purchaser, a certain sense of gravitas. You know in your bones that the contents will not be fluff.

And of course it proved not to be. And well worth the £11 RRP. Although the CD is largely Bob Wood solo, he is aided on individual tracks by some stellar musicians, the likes of Brian Willoughby and Bob's great friend Benny Gallagher (who co-produced). And best of all, the extraordinary cello of Gregor Riddell, someone who I am ashamed to say, was a new name to me.

Throughout, the album always convinces: Bob's authoritative guitar and gentle voice never waver. It is a mix of mainly covers of contemporary folk standards, a traditional song or two, and a couple of bagpipe tunes arranged for guitar. That said, one is more drawn to some of the covers than others: his versions of Garnet Rogers' All That Is, Pete Morton's Another Train, Robin Laing's Heavy Horses, David Francey's Grim Cathedral, and Pete Bond's Joe Peel, seem to put his stamp on the songs and make us forget previous versions that are embedded in our collective consciousness. And two covers vie with one another for best track: his version of Gordon Tyrrall's setting of the John Clare poem, Song, and Jimmy McCarthy's No Frontiers, where his high tenor plaintive strains just made me melt.

Not so sure of the opening track though. His version of Jez Lowe's The Bergen promised so well, with his clever setting of the scene with the sound effects of squawking gulls before he played a note. (I so liked that little trick, incidentally. It wasn't the only time he used it. For instance, the aforementioned Heavy Horses starts with the clip-clop of the hooves.)

The problem with covers of contemporary classics is you must do your darnedest to free yourself from the hold of the original. And alas for all Bob's brave attempts here, Jez has him in a vice-like grip. For all his commendable rolling Rs of his West Coast of Scotland accent that manifest themselves in words like harvest and far, every time Bob sings the recurring line Dreams Came To Me Where I Lay, it is pure County Durham I am hearing!

But hey, that last vista of temporary indecisiveness may be part of the charm of this lovely 56 minute voyage. But now the swithering is over. And one of the things he may have been swithering about was whether to include so many covers. Swither no more, Bob lad. Your judgement has been vindicated.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 102 of The Living Tradition magazine.