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Nigel Schofield of The Living Tradition

reviews The Boatman's Cure by Paul Downes

Paul is an arch collaborator and in demand session player. It's appropriate, therefore, that he has assembled an impressive backing band for this, his fifth solo album: players on the album include Phil Beer, Keith Kendrick and Maggie Boyle. The backing they provide is at once inventive and supportive, enhancing and appropriate.

Anyone who has followed Paul's career will be aware of his remarkable musical taste. This collection of 10 songs and two tunes is impeccable in its song selection. From Honour And Praise (a revelation for those familiar with the song through the Fairport Convention version) to a revival of Harvey Andrews' Unaccompanied, these are songs which all see the world through the eyes of experience and maturity. Three are traditional songs; the rest are by contemporary writers. The bleakest (The Old Man's Retreat) and the most uplifting (Road To Camden Town) have obvious routes in his recent collaboration with Maggie Boyle, who included the first song on her most recent album.

Even though some songs particularly the title track lend themselves to full voiced chorus, Paul has chosen to maintain just a single voice throughout a decision reflective of the empirical wisdom of the songs themselves, since, like the empathetic arrangements, it maintains full focus on the songs throughout.

This is a deep, rich album with performances that, through repeated listening, reveal greater and greater depth in their interpretations. This is a master craftsman of a performer, marshalling all his talents.

Special mention in closing of the two instrumentals which provide texture to the album. Quasi classical, Downes' originals, they were written for Show Of Hands but here emerge as breathtakingly gorgeous vignettes.