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RALPH MCTELL - Hill Of Beans 

RALPH MCTELL - Hill Of Beans 
Leola Music TPGCD50 

This sees Ralph re-acquainted with producer Tony Visconti. It is Ralph’s first album of self-penned songs for nearly a decade, and it is most rewarding in both song quality and production. Such is its significance, that Ralph has been recently touring the album, to great acclaim.

All but two songs were new to me: I had encountered Clear Water performed by Fairport, and been ambushed by the album’s best song - West Fourth Street And Jones - on Jools Holland’s TV programme. Of the others: there are positively no duds, and a handful that really shimmer. They include fond memories of a train driver granddad who bossed the footplate of the famed Brighton Belle; a depiction of literary Paris in the Twenties, Gertrude And Alice; and the jaunty ragtime Close Shave, with its surprise amusing twist halfway through.

Nice to see the evergreen Mary Hopkin (with daughter Jessica Lee Morgan) on backing vocals. And Ralph is joined by a truly elite group of players, all credited to the nth degree, except curiously Ralph’s own fine harmonica escapes a mention.

And it is to the fore, on West Fourth Street And Jones, the standout song. It brilliantly evokes the days of Greenwich Village in 1963 – when he was still Ralph May and not McTell – and recalls the cover photo of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album: Bob arm-in-arm with then girlfriend Suze Rotolo (not “Rottollo”!). For those of us alive at the time, this sublime song is a veritable Proustian madeleine cake.

Dai Woosnam


This review appeared in Issue 132 of The Living Tradition magazine