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KENNY SPEIRS - Sleepwalking

KENNY SPEIRS - Sleepwalking
Brigside Music BS157

This is the long-awaited release of Kenny’s first entirely self-penned album, and being an admirer of his talents, I regard it as an honour to be chosen to write this review.

This is an album where the listener is not short-changed in terms of both playing time (1 hour and 3 minutes), or in terms of musical talent brought to the table. He has five very capable musicians join him in an album where the presence of a sixth musician is always hovering: I refer there of course to his stage and life partner, Judy Dinning, whose sublime voice was alas stilled forever in October 2013. (That said of course, with the wonders of the recording studio, Judy – like Sandy Denny and so many others before her – will be able to take curtain calls in a myriad drawing rooms in countless towns for generations to come.)

There are two songs here in her memory, and one of them – Everywhere – is very fine indeed, capturing as it does the intense sense of loneliness when someone who has been the love of your life dies. And how I loved this couplet: All the birds are singing your songs/They know the words and I sing along. (I won’t nit-pick and suggest that had Kenny dropped the “s” in songs, it might possibly have carried even more oomph, since “singing your song” would still have implied And this song Everywhere is given real gravitas by the marvellously assured fiddle of Fiona Cuthill, that in my case, brought to mind two words: hairs and neck.

And talking of musicians: it is many years since I reviewed a Brian Willoughby CD, and I had forgotten what a blisteringly good electric guitarist he is. He stamps his authority on the opening title track, but really reaches his zenith with his performance on the album’s best cut, viz., Southdean Rider, the story of the Isle of Man TT great, the late Steve Hislop who came from just a few miles from Kenny. The song’s lyrics do a fine job in telling the story of a brilliant if flawed individual, but it takes Willoughby’s extraordinary guitar to really put the imprimatur on the song. Willoughby’s guitar break so stunningly evoked the sounds of high performance bikes screaming at full speed, and then having slowed to take a tight bend, then revving up through the gears. I promise you: Jimi Hendrix could not have matched those sounds any better!

I regard it as the best song to capture speed on a motorbike since David Wilcox’s astonishing Eye Of The Hurricane, back in 1993. And talking of very good songs, I note Kenny has reprieved his My Borderland, which featured on his 1999 album Bordersong. A very singable number, made even better by some imaginative percussion from Stevie Lawrence. The best song on the Scottish Borders since Matt McGinn’s sweet and deliberately sentimental The Rolling Hills Of The Borders.

There are several other songs that please the ear: chief being I Don’t Need Anything More. This has a charming chorus, and just one word stops the song becoming close to very good, in my book: and that word is need. If only he had substituted want. You see, it is a given that living in his idyllic village in the Borders, he doesn’t need for anything more or to be anywhere else. Just ask people in Somalia or Syria if they would like to swop places with him! So with respect to Kenny, that he does not need to move an inch from where he, well, just stating the obvious. But that he does not want for anything else or a change of scene...ah, now that’s quite different. And I believe that is what Kenny is really saying here: it is a much more powerful expression of will. And it’s really not some dubious semantics, folks: it is all about great lyric writing demanding every word pay its rent in the line.

That said, let me end on a positive note. This is a very respectable album from a skilled performer who has great warmth and who knows how to surround himself with top notch musicians.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 120 of The Living Tradition magazine.