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CHRIS FOSTER 'Jewels' Tradition Bearers Series LTCD1102

I'd always thought of Chris Foster as primarily a rather fine guitar player who sang the odd song (although, on reflection, this impression probably owes a good deal to first seeing him run a guitar workshop at Sidmouth Festival). I was intrigued to see him included in the Tradition Bearers series, so memorably inaugurated by ex-Critics Group Bob Blair. After all, you can scarcely stick your finger in your ear whilst tickling the silver strings. Listening to Foster's performance of these twelve traditional songs, I realised the extent to which I'd misjudged a remarkable talent.

The guitar playing is technically flawless with some beautifully clean fingerpicking, but that at least I expected. What comes as a surprise is Foster's knack for devising just the right arrangement, always subordinating his playing to the natural rhythm of the lyric, resisting any temptation to misplaced virtuosity and subtly reinforcing the song's emotional power, notably in The Banks Of Newfoundland and Rufford Park Poachers. He can do humour, too, contriving to introduce a knowing smirk into his voice when recounting the trials of the errant tradesman in The Cobbler And The Butcher.

Even more unexpected is Foster's technique with an unaccompanied song such as The Grey Cock, a version of The Lover's Ghost, performed with skill and sensitivity. Maintaining to its conclusion the dramatic tension of a big ballad such as Lady Maisry, a harrowing account of violent death and the survival of love beyond the grave, would tax any performer. That Chris Foster acquits himself so convincingly is a tribute both to a voice made for traditional performance and a deep feeling for the song. A jewel, indeed.

Dave Tuxford

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This album was reviewed in Issue 56 of The Living Tradition magazine.