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GREN BARTLEY - Magnificent Creatures

GREN BARTLEY - Magnificent Creatures
Fellside Recordings FECD268

This guy is a well respected acoustic musician who is still flying more than a bit under the radar, nationally. His sound is not quite like anything else you will hear from one year to the next: as he now tours with a female string section who also provide sublime vocal harmonies. The last time I can recall anything even remotely quite like it, was when Leonard Cohen used to appear with similarly pulchritudinous female acolytes!

And now, with this being Gren’s third album, does it herald him breaking out of the underground folk scene, to true national prominence? Well ...before I give you my considered answer, let me talk you (after a fashion) through the album.

I won’t cheat by listing all the tracks: that would just be padding. Instead, I will talk about the way the album changes mood and tempo: there’s never a really dull moment.

Gren sets his stall out with his opener Tall Wooden Walls, and you think you are in for the 11 tracks over 44 minutes to consist of finger style acoustic guitar and his vocals to be redolent of dreamy Donovan Leitch in his Mellow Yellow phase.

But the second track Fair Share jolts you a little: you realise that this is a big production number. Stirring cello from Sarah Smout (that was to be a hallmark of the whole CD, incidentally).

But it took track three, Angels Fade, for me to realise that this chap has a gift for writing the sweetest of melodic choruses: and two of his female band members do their bit in the fine three part harmony.

Track six, Of The Girl, sees a change to Ry Cooder style slide guitar, and some fine ethereal vocals from Julia Disney. This gives way to the next number, Home Soon. This is very redolent of Neil Young in his pomp, not least in the driving harmonica of Gavin Monaghan, who produced this CD at Magic Garden Studio.

The rest of the album travels on sedately to its final track, Silent Night, with its lyrical acceptance of time being the great healer, and time bringing all things to an end...including this album!

And so, having played it three times all the way through, do I think it a success? Yes I do in terms of production values, that’s for sure. Wonderful crispness of sound, and Fellside - as is their hallmark – have handsomely presented it with lyrics that are made marvellously legible in the liner booklet.

However, mentioning those lyrics, I have to say that some of them do not yield up their meaning particularly easily. And in addition, do not expect to find a song on here that you will passionately want to learn to sing in your local folk club next month. There is not one.

But then, Gren Bartley is not that sort of writer: that is not his shtick. For his songs are decidedly personal to him. And none the worse for that.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 110 of The Living Tradition magazine.