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HILARY BLYTHE - Paradise Mountain

HILARY BLYTHE - Paradise Mountain
Prospect Music PMCD001

The day I sat down to write this review, the big news on the talkSPORT radio station was the sacking of an English Premier League club manager, who hailed from the USA. And one of the suggested reasons for his demise was that the fans and players never took to his accent and Americanisms.

Now, “what has this got to do with Hilary Blythe?” you may ask. Good question. Normally I would not mention such a seemingly extraneous thing, but do so here in this review, because the front cover of this CD (recorded in Florida), says “Folk with a country glow”.

So I was especially interested to hear how her quintessentially British voice, tackled American folk/country songs. (Assuming of course they were American songs.) And I was interested to hear if there was anything in the delivery itself, which added the “country glow” to what may be straight folk songs.

Well, it has been a while since I saw Hilary perform with husband (and boogie woogie pianist extraordinaire), Bob Hall. And he is here alongside her, playing intuitive and occasionally persuasive mandolin. But I guess it is the authoritative presence of pedal steel guitar ace Tony Palmer that gives the album its true country imprimatur. He can make that wailing instrument of his truly talk. He is worthy of a seat at the right hand of the great Lloyd Green. For good measure he adds bass and dobro on some tracks.

And so I started playing this ten track CD. And the first linguistic “test” was going to come in the very first song, Tom Paxton’s wonderful hymn of praise to the likes of Martin Luther King, Pete Seeger and the civil rights Selma marchers and brave anti Vietnam War demonstrators, How Beautiful Upon The Mountain. For several years I have loved Tom’s own version of this song, and have always remembered his American pronunciation of the name of the prophet Isaiah...a name that crops up in every chorus. Which way was she going to go? An American “Isaiah”, or a British one?

And I was so pleased that her sweet voice and clear enunciation came down on the British side! Had she been from the school of the Adele/Amy Winehouse crowd, she’d have immediately gone native, but it would not have sounded right. But have no fear: our gal Hilary did us Brits proud, and really nailed the song. Helped in good measure by the most arresting vocal harmony from another local musician from The Florida Keys, Patti Nickless. Whenever she appears, she augments and never detracts.

The Paxton song was to prove to be the high water mark of the album. A pity of sorts. When you start with the dynamite, you have to end with the TNT, and this album tailed off slightly. That is not to say that the batting order was wholly unsuccessful: there was a convincing (if un-country) performance of the Ewan MacColl classic The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, at number 7, but I would have liked some stronger songs bringing up the rear. And a better set of liner notes, perhaps: one that explained the reasons for the choice of songs.

So it’s up front mainly that this album packs its punch. A profound reading of Packie Byrne’s For Ever at #3, and that’s followed by a version of the Johnny Cash classic I Still Miss Someone that would have most of the A&R men down on Music Row in Nashville, salivating. Sweet stuff.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 117 of The Living Tradition magazine.