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PHIL HARE "Broken Timing" 101 Records 101RECCD15

Perhaps inviting a sly comparison with Lewis Carroll, our very own March Hare almost apologetically announces "I'm late!" in the release accompanying this CD, which turns out to be only his third album in thirteen years! And although very different in content from both Living On Credit and Common Ground, to some extent it shares those earlier albums' sense of understatement, even underselling, of Phil's talents. It's probably fairest to say that although Phil makes a very strong impression in live performance, both as a versatile, accomplished and deservedly acclaimed guitarist and as a high-class songwriter in his own right as well as possessing a distinctive vision in his interpretation of traditional and contemporary songs, Phil's recorded work has somehow never quite found immediate acceptance or appeal (or shifted loads of units!).

You have to take the time to work at it and let the songs penetrate, doing their work in making you think, but it invariably proves worth the time and trouble. Broken Timing amply demonstrates that Phil's songwriting skills have attained a new maturity of late (not that his writing has ever been immature, I hasten to add!), ruminating more lyrically than previously yet retaining both his characteristic honesty of expression and that sharp observational edge and deep commitment to life's important issues. Although Phil has a clear respect for the tradition, a distinct contemporary sensibility also informs and infuses his writing, and on Broken Timing the latter predominates, being reflected in the musical arrangements, which largely revolve around the piano of Jonathan Levy providing the rippling melodic counterpoint to the driving delicacy of Phil's guitar. Sax, drums and bass are also used, albeit quite sparingly, and the production (courtesy of drummer Mike Johnson) is uniformly crisp and sympathetic. Probably the CD's best illustration of the "living tradition", in melding traditional and contemporary elements, is O'Flanagan's, which features accordion, whistle and flute and pits a dancing verse against a more leisurely, reflective chorus. So to the album's potential downsides: there are only three instrumental cuts, and these are very brief indeed - hardly enough to properly showcase Phil's extensive prowess in this area, you might say; and - and this is what may yet prove the barrier to wider acclaim for Phil - an occasional (albeit relative) flatness in melodic content in some songs. Whatever, though, Phil certainly doesn't deserve to remain so criminally underrated, so do take a chance and get to hear this fine album, and also support Phil by going to see him live whenever you get the chance.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 52 of The Living Tradition magazine.