Link to Living Tradition Homepage





ANDREW CALHOUN - Rhymer’s Tower: Ballads Of The Anglo-Scottish Border

ANDREW CALHOUN - Rhymer’s Tower: Ballads Of The Anglo-Scottish Border
Waterbug WBG126

Every so often you get your hands on a double album that just oozes gravitas. And this from a Chicago-based chap totally unknown to me, just impressed the heck out of me.

Not that it is entirely easy going. Why? Well, for five years he immersed himself researching and developing his material from authentic texts. As he says “themes of terrorism and trust, speak across time”. They were tough times and tough people. And just occasionally it makes for tough listening. (He gives us remarkable value for money in one hour fifty minutes playing time: but if you play both discs in one sitting, you might find one hopes for occasional relief from the relentless betrayal, banditry, murder, mayhem, etc., but alas, it does not come.)

However that said, here one always knows one is in the company of a deeply serious artiste, a man who never plays fast and loose with his extensive sources. He delivers his ballads in a sonorous voice that suits his material, and plays unflashy - but occasionally surprisingly imaginative - guitar to accompany himself. I really loved him going the extra mile and providing a detailed map of the country where the reivers once reigned supreme. (It was great to check out places I had personally been to, like Flodden Field.)

There are the familiar, and the obscure songs, cheek by jowl here. My favourite of the former was his reading of his variant of Twa Corbies, The Two Ravens taken down from Thomas Shortreed, (as learned from his mother) in Jedburgh, in 1816. And of the latter, I much appreciated his The Rose Of Yarrow based on the version of the well-known Dowie Dens Of Yarrow which he says was “contributed by William Welsh, Peeblesshire cottar and poet; tune from Mrs Calvert, Gilnockie, Eskdale, as learned from her grandmother, Tibbie Shiel”.

So there you have it folks. A serious piece of work from a performer of total integrity. And there are moments when these ballads will have you on the edge of your seat. But never quite jumping out of it in exaltation.

Dai Woosnam

Secure On-line mailorder service
Many CDs we review are available from The Listening Post.
Check to see if this CD is available.

The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 119 of The Living Tradition magazine.