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Mike Nicholson - “Stone By Stone” - Cilletune

Mike’s natural habitat is the singaround, be it at festival or country pub, and to this CD, as to his more formal performances, he brings that same all-inclusive warmth.  In this he is aided by Marilyn Middleton and a mighty chorus and all that’s missing is the clanging cash register and the clinking of beer glasses to complete the ambience.

There is a certain rose-tinted nostalgia about much of the material.  Take “The Empty Echoes”, about the mechanisation of farming – a point made rather more pithily three decades since in Muckram Wakes’ “Fifty Years Ago”.  It’s the difference between experience and imagination.  That said, I’d forgive the nostalgia industry almost anything for “Home Lads Home”, an old Hampshire poem turned into a marvellous song by Sarah Morgan’s tune. Of course, those words were also written from experience.

Mike draws heavily on a group of well-known songwriters.  Perhaps too heavily: three Stan Rogers’ covers on one record may be thought to be over-egging the pudding even though Mike does an impressive job in matching Rogers’ fearsome range on “White Squall”.  Nor does he fall into the trap of over-emoting; rather he tells the tragic story with quiet compassion and handles “Jeannie C” and “The Field Behind The Plough” with equal skill.  Not that it’s all high drama: there are two genuinely original funny songs in “The Day Me Whippet Wouldn’t Run” and “Hell Bound Boat”

There’s nothing cutting edge about “Stone By Stone”, just good honest singing, but I can guarantee that it will be a big seller this summer.

Dai Jeffries

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This album was reviewed in Issue 47 of The Living Tradition magazine.