Ralph McTell

Leola Music TPGCD17

This is the first general release of a McTell album which appears to be around four years-old, so the most passionate devotees may already be familiar with it, or with the songs. However, for the first time hearer it is a treasure. There are 19 songs, recorded at Woodworm studios but coming across with an immediacy that makes you fee they could have been recorded live on stage. Congratulations to engineer Mark Tucker for that.

It is intended as a celebration of McTell's 60th birthday, and does its job well. A series of songs show all those mannerisms of singing and writing we have learned to love over the years. The singer is clearly very at home with them, suggesting he's worn them in well on stage before recording.

Finding stand-out tracks is difficult. McTell's writing has reached a consistency that puts everything on the same consistently high level. From the opening track 'Up' with its get-under-your-skin refrain 'It's a Long Way Down From Here' to 'I'll keep this with Mine' here are a series of songs that not only make you sing-along but contain the odd line to surprise you, or make you laugh. There's also some inspired singing and playing; McTell using all those vocal tricks he perfected in years of gigging, and some inspired playing from Steve Turner on guitars, Mike Piggott on Fiddle, and odds and ends from Maartin Allcock, all underpinned in most parts by bass and drums from Dave Pegg and Gerry Conway.

To mention a few tracks at random: 'In the Dreamtime' encapsulates the quieter side of McTell; 'Easter Lilies' sees him at his story telling best. 'Icarus Survived', 'West' and 'Fin', about watching black and white French films, stick in the mind at early hearings, while the final track, 'Red Sky at Night' rounds everything off just as if it was a live encore. Even the lightweight 'Raining in My Heart, the only non-McTell song, fits in well with some enthusiastic backing vocals from Chris While and Julie Matthews.

I doubt if I've heard a McTell studio album that so encapsulates the essence of the man. It gets just about everything right.

Bob Harragan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 63 of The Living Tradition magazine.