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Paul Davenport of EDS

reviews Return Journey by Dave Arthur with Pete Cooper & Chris Moreton

Im on record elsewhere as being a fan of Dave Arthur and when the grapevine whispered that hed just recorded a new album I had to chase it up. Its been a long time since I heard this voice. At first I was thrown by the intonation of what is indisputably an album of American songs and tunes. In this work Dave has taken as his theme the passage of songs and tunes which have crossed the Atlantic and, at times, returned in a different form to their place of origin. The title, Return Journey speaks of this interaction in what are essentially two different cultures sharing a common language. To support Daves thesis the album itself is accompanied by a set of notes on the songs which at once suggests this is not so much a comeback but rather a labour of love. The notes are thorough, scholarly and, most importantly, eminently readable. Provenanceshave been followed and the material updated right up to the final moment of printing. This booklet represents painstaking research and a respect for both the material and the reader and alone is worth possessing. The album sleeve is a quirky piece of artwork which is designed to send out several messages, none of which label the album as homespun folky. This modern design rather sends out the message of modernity continuity and contemporary values.
The actual songs are delivered in a neutral voice, Dave does not make the mistake of using a fake accent but relies rather on some economical but beautifully understated banjo playing to deliver the .otherness of much of the material. The singing is, as always, authoritative and yet manages to inject an edge which some
might compare with Cordelias Dad . The tunes, on the other hand are imbued with an accent so strongly American that the authenticity shines through. Pete Cooper is here the perfect choice of fiddler whilst Chris Moreton provides equally understated and authentic guitar. For those who have honed their listening skills on the likes of Hobart Smith and Clyde Davenport (no, he isnt ? in case you were thinking of asking) this compares favourably and the three performers sound as homey as Moms apple pie which is what we should expect from players who have gone to the well to drink. It is the strength of this album that it seeks to do for the transatlantic connection what Songlines earlier this year did with greater resources for the Australian link to our traditions. Return Journey lacks many pretensions and there are moments where, despite good studio engineering, or perhaps because of it, the listener might feel that they are listening to a top quality field recording rather than a revival performance.
A track listing is superfluous and a detailed listening is needed to form ones own opinion of this album. My own view is that this is a little like buying a house on a rising market, I think an investment in this work is going to gain value in the future. For those who need more convincing read Daves article elsewhere in this issue. Oh yes, I nearly forgot, the last track, stuck in, Dave tells us, as a kind of afterthought. Heres the voice I remember, a stunning, informed and definitive version of American Stranger by a man who knows!