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Bob Butler of Whats Afoot

reviews Ghosts & Greasepaint by Barry Lister

You'd be forgiven for thinking, at first sight of the track list, that this is a ballads album. But then what's this? ... The Trim Rigged Doxy... Monday Morning... The Factory Girl (Jagger/Richards)! Indeed there's plenty of variety on Barry's first solo album.

Barry is joined on some tracks by his mates Tom Addison, Dave Lowry and Sean O'Shea. But only Come To My Window is sung ensemble; instead Barry rings the changes with duets. He gives up the lead to Dave on Admiral Benbow. Little old Limadie (how many times have you heard someone sing it under various titles?) is refreshed by Barry and Sean in harmony. More surprises with Tom and Barry's Factory Set: The Handweaver and the Factory Maid / The Factory Girl (by the aforementioned Mick & Keith) / The Doing Mistress /Monday Morning (C.Tawney). The two traditional songs are undiminished in this unfamiliar company; the modern images of the factory bring another dimension to their idealised factory maids. My only complaint is that, as the four songs stand up for themselves in their contrasting arrangements, I would have liked a slightly longer pause between them. A few tracks have the bonus of sensitive accompaniment from Ed Rennie and/or Jackie Oates, both highly-rated musicians who respect traditional song. Despite its twentieth-century origin, the stately Sir Richard's Song acquires an almost medieval ambience.

What of the 'ghosts and greasepaint' in the album's title? Well, Barry manages to avoid calling up the shades of Peter Bellamy and Cyril Tawney, but I thought I heard A.L. Lloyd during Jack Orion (nothing wrong with that, of course), which is appropriately accompanied on fiddle by Jackie. I couldn't smell any 'greasepaint' at all: the up-tempo and harmony tracks are never theatrical, while on the slower ballads Barry's warm resonant voice is subtly expressive, and he decorates the turns gently with obvious affection. Clearly all these songs are old friends for Barry, although he's actually been singing Bonny Bunch of Roses for only a few years. Barry's exemplary diction ensures that words are never sacrificed to decoration or a sprightly pace.

The CD booklet is informative and attractively (and legibly!) laid out, with thumbnail photos of all the artists. At thirteen tracks, including one comprising four songs, it's a big album with enough colour and depth for many plays.