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Hubris Records HUB007

Happenstance is a fine thing, and it plays a large part in the gestation of this latest project from one of our most undersung singer-songwriter-guitarists. The back-story goes that, at a recent concert in Bath, Steve came together with two old friends from the seventies (Acoustic Confusion) days, fiddler/multi-instrumentalist Stuart Gordon and harmonica player Keith Warmington, and that magical occasion proved the catalyst for further exploration of the collaborative possibilities. And on the evidence of this record, it’s a dream team, wherein we can only sit and marvel at the close musical sensibilities of the three participants. Steve’s ever-exceptional guitar skills are (of course) the driving force of the trio, but there’s no denying the felicitous and wholly complementary playing (and occasionally singing) of Stuart and Keith.

Happenstance is also a recurring theme within the material Steve and his friends have chosen to perform here; they compellingly revisit three songs from Steve’s impressive back-catalogue which all deal in some way with the concept, operation and implications of chance – Rocky Road (from Solo Rubato), Sometimes In This Life (from Life By Misadventure) and Blues For The North Wind (from And So It Goes). The happenstance of the creative muse also comes up trumps for Steve on a small handful of new songs, from the knowing, lilting “road song” Beulah Road (with its irresistible opening rhyme of Llandeilo/banjo) to the commentary on diminishing opportunities Jam Tomorrow (complete with cheeky paraphrase of the Eton Boating Song). Steve also treats us to a tenderly reflective setting of Yeats’ Song Of The Wandering Aengus, and fresh interpretations of a pair of traditional songs: Courting Is A Pleasure and Martin Said To His Man (the latter delightfully setting the musicians off on a minor binge of musical connectivity). Steve’s musical grounding in, and long-term appreciation of, the jazz tradition is showcased on Jimmy’s Train, an exemplary creative melding of two pieces by clarinet/sax great Jimmy Giuffre, while his personal take on Irving Berlin’s Let’s Face The Music And Dance, long a live favourite, finally earns disc space in this affectionate trio reading. The final items on the disc depart from Tilston tradition – Sentimental’s rumination on happenstance comes from the determinedly non-prolific pen of Keith, while Stuart composed the jaunty closing instrumental Little Norris, which provides much opportunity for gleeful abandon in imaginative multi-tracking.

Happenstance thus proves a strong and strongly unified collection, an essential acquisition for Steve’s admirers and a worthy addition from an artist still very much at the top of his game.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 98 of The Living Tradition magazine.