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GREN BARTLEY - Songs To Scythe Back The Overgrown

GREN BARTLEY - Songs To Scythe Back The Overgrown
Fellside Recordings FECD247

Conceived in a surreal dream experience involving the wonderfully eccentric Square & Compass PH at Worth Matravers in Dorset, singer-songwriter and masterful guitarist Gren Bartley’s debut solo release is as individual and characterful as that charming place.

There are 11 of his own very personal songs, an acutely heartfelt rendition of Joni Mitchell’s The Last Time I Saw Richard, and one instrumental piece. Generally the songs involve deep metaphysical reflections on life, time (night in particular!), and ageing with significant undertones of loneliness, fear and angst. The lyrics incline to being allusive and cryptic. They include pleasing poetic phrasing (four in the morning night roots creep in my eyes; courtesy is a curse we both share; [climbing ivy] sleeping with the mortar and the stone; they paint over pain with a drink and a smoke and a kiss) and some deft, often colourful, imagery.

As with recent solo live performances, the essential vehicle for the conveyance of these distinctively original songs is Gren’s soft, slightly frail edged voice, coupled with his immaculately and exquisitely tight and precise guitar (and banjo) playing. The medium for their delivery is a highly developed and personally stylised take on American folk, blues and old time traditions.

There is a deliberately measured and spacious quality to the overall presentation in time, mood and tone, worthily comparable with some of Martin Simpson’s recent work and, perhaps more generally, Richard Thompson. This well suits the effective relaying of the material with every note and nuance being made to count. For variety, two pieces employ urgent rolling train rhythms with oodles of intricate guitar interest. The modest accompaniment on keyboards (Andy Whittle), fiddle and vocals (Katriona Gilmore), and vocals (Robert Hallard) provides further carefully calibrated and subtle detail.

Kevin T. Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 93 of The Living Tradition magazine.