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David Kidman of Netrythms

reviews Ghosts & Greasepaint by Barry Lister

The second of (coincidentally) two CDs in the same issue with a Songwainer connection! For according to the WildGoose website, Barry sang in the revived Songwainers. But initially I gleaned little else in terms of background information, aside from his name appearing among the list of organisers of the revitalised Sidmouth Festival. Apparently, following an early theatre career (hence the CDs title reference), Barry began his folk apprenticeship in the mid-60s with the Exeter Traditional FSC, subsequently singing with harmony groups Isca Fayre and Hollinmor, then latterly The Claque (Dave Lowry, Sean OShea and Tom Addison), who join him en-masse for two of this CDs tracks (and then each of them individually on one more song apiece).

Barry sings just five of the CDs 13 tracks completely unaccompanied; these tend to be the big ballads (big in stature, yet here none lasts more than six minutes as it turns out), for these are Barrys forte without a shadow of doubt. The CDs opener, Young Edwin In The Lowlands, is a masterly, nay tremendous retelling of the ballad which sets out Barrys stall extremely persuasively. Barrys rendition is measured, unerringly paced and lovingly phrased, savouring the story and taking the requisite time but never dragging it out, while imparting a dynamism of expression suiting the ebb and flow of the text yet without resorting to dramatic posturing or over-theatricality. These basic characteristics of approach apply to each song Barry tackles, but each performance sounds freshly minted and spontaneous.

The timbre of Barrys voice is gorgeous, whatever the register; outwardly his singing seems quite gentle, laid-back often at times, but listen closely and you find it exhibits a tender strength thats both immensely appealing and interpretatively satisfying. The phrase that probably best sums up Barrys singing is quiet excitement; this quality would seem to apply both to Barrys attitude to singing itself and to the effect his singing has on this listener, for Barrys control of expressive and rhythmic nuance is exemplary. Economical too, for Barry coaxes great drama from St Jamess Hospital in less than three minutes yet it never seems rushed. Even the version of George Collins that Barry uses doesnt feel as incomplete as Barry admits, so persuasive is his telling of the tale.

The non-solo tracks turn out to be equally addictive: Barry and Tom join forces for an epic eight-minute Factory Set, an imaginative medley of two traditional songs, Cyril Tawneys Monday Morning and the Stones (Beggars Banquet) number Factory Girl, while Barrys rendition of Limadie with Sean is obviously born of years of experience in moulding tune and words into a satisfying performing version. The Claques dance-like take on Hunting The Hare (which isnt the song you expect it to be!) is great fun. For the majority of the remainder of the CD, Barry brings in a modicum of instrumental accompaniment, courtesy of Ed Rennie (guitar, melodeon) and Jackie Oates (violin, viola), the latter especially beguiling on the faster-paced Jack Orion and a well-judged rendition of the Bellamy classic Sir Richards Song (here, however, Eds guitar line sounds unusually dull in terms of presence and balance). This CD does a real service in bringing an exceptionally fine singer into the limelight, a singer who deserves to be heard much more widely.