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MIKE SILVER - How Many Rivers

MIKE SILVER - How Many Rivers
Faymus Recordings FRCD0108

It is five years since I reviewed a Mike Silver album.   And writing that review (for a German-based publication), I said the following, when attempting to describe Mike’s voice for the benefit of readers who were not a contemporary of his (like I am), but instead were young enough to be almost our grandkids:

“But for you youngsters reading this, let me try and exactly place the voice in the vast range of well-known Folk voices.  Well, Mike’s timbre always makes me think of that wonderful singer so redolent of a sepia-coloured England of country lanes and warm beer:  Johnny Coppin.  But the voice is not quite as ethereal as Coppin’s: it is somewhere between Coppin and the more earthy tenor voice of – say – an Eddie Walker.”

I mention this, not because the remarks were particularly insightful on my part, but because serendipity sees Mr Coppin fill the role of co-producer here (along with Mick Dolan).  Not only that, but Johnny plays piano and guitar with his customary éclat.  And gives us the bonus of his sharing the vocals with Mike on The Dove and the Dolphin (q.v.): the Coppin voice I am pleased to report is in fine fettle (albeit not quite the ethereal voice of the early Decameron days, but instead now with an additional impressive lower register). 

The album starts with the immensely catchy How Many Rivers.  This is the most commercial cut on the CD: I could imagine it getting lots of Radio 2 airplay.  The jury is out however on whether the workmanlike lyrics match the engagingly infectious tune. Two songs on this album attempt to make us laugh, albeit, the humour is deliberately aimed at a knowing smile rather than a belly-laugh.  JCB does not do it for me, but (the slightly Steve Goodman-esque) Oh Doctor, scores highly.   As does the aforementioned The Dove And The Dolphin (his song about the recent aid convoys to Gaza: just watch this song gain a solid foothold in the repertoire of a myriad floor-singers!), and Easy if You Look at it Right (a laid back reminiscence of an early 80s momentary infatuation in a German bar): this latter song has some splendid lead guitar from Jo Partridge, who I always knew was a star from the moment I first saw him in the flesh as a 16 year old backing the late Colin Scot.

But there are a couple of bullseyes on this album.  Times when you just know as a listener, that the artiste has delivered the goods to your door: goods you would never think of returning to the sender. Two songs that one suspects will have “legs”: songs that will still be sung 25 years from now. First there is Jackaroo, the song he wrote for Martyn Wyndham-Read.  Golly, there was never any danger of Martyn doing an OJ and saying “this glove don’t fit!”.  A fine song that brings a lump to the throat of all of us (like me) who had siblings who went to Oz for a tenner.  And then there is the huge surprise of the album: Black & White – 1945, a song from the previously unknown Ross Brown.  It was written when he was a student at Mike’s first workshop at the (then) Wyndham-Read’s, La Jeusseliniere. (Mike had been invited to tutor by Martyn). 

It is a hallmark of Mike Silver’s decency and lack of professional insecurity, that he can give room on his album for a song from a raw newcomer to song writing: one that very nearly steals the show.  (“Steals” it, that is, from the remaining 11 other tracks which are all from Mike’s own pen.)  One looks forward to more from Mr Brown.   And one thanks Mike Silver for possibly his most rounded and artistically successful album to date.

Dai Woosnam
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This album was reviewed in Issue 82 of The Living Tradition magazine.