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Whistleberry Music WHIS007

Lanark-based singer-songwriter Tom’s been a bit of a best-kept secret, whose talents I discovered through his debut album Little Stories and subsequently revisited on the fine follow-up Life Goes On, since which time Tom’s also contributed to an album of songs from the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson. But now at long last he’s got round to releasing a third solo album. It proves another exceedingly accomplished collection that is if anything even more illustrious a set than its predecessors. It contains no fewer than five songs that have already won songwriting prizes, including Carrion Craw (commemorating the battle of Harlaw in 1411), I Think He Liked The Ladies (musing on a couple of old friends who died unexpectedly), the disc’s reflective title track, and most notably Dig (concerning Tom’s maternal grandfather, a miner who was a tragic victim of both coal-dust and trench warfare). A further prize-winner, What’s Waiting For You, an evocative portrait of the Clydesdale horses, made a strong impression when I heard it on the Greentrax label’s themed CD Gentle Giants a few years ago. But there are other glories of songwriting elsewhere on this new CD too, the best of which are probably the melancholy, gently poignant Could Fade Away, which was inspired by a friend’s account of accidentally meeting his ex-wife in the street after they’d simply drifted apart, and the pensive All Your Troubles.

A particularly satisfying seal is set on the high quality of Tom’s songwriting by the lovely sound of the album: it boasts an excellent recording, which is superbly warm yet both conveys and retains the necessary intimacy and approachability without sacrificing clarity of expression or internal balance. It helps that Tom has chosen to make the whole album using almost exclusively acoustic instruments (with only Davie Scott’s keyboards being plugged in); this gives a refreshingly uncluttered feel to the proceedings and makes the most of all the individual elements, from Tom’s own undemonstrative but beautifully effective guitar playing to the ancillary contributions of Wendy Weatherby (cello), Steven Polwart and Clive Gregson (guitars), Mairearad Green (pipes, accordion), Russell Ballantine (dobro), Kris Koren (mandolin), John Weatherby (banjo) and Fiona Cuthill (fiddle). Delicious cameos such as Clive’s playing on the easygoing Send Me Another Smile and Mairearad’s powerful rendition of the piping tune Lochanside (serving as a postlude to Dig) are worthy of individual mention too.

Verdict: with Next Time, Tom’s produced a significantly fine songwriter album that deserves to win him some prizes in its own right.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 97 of The Living Tradition magazine.