Dai Woosnam of Dai Woosnam
reviews Fruits of the Earth by Jim CausleyIn my more thoughtful moments, I often wonder about names. I mean, is it
a millstone or a godsend to have a famous namesake in the same field? And I am not talking soccer or politics here. I am being strictly relevant
and staying within the realms of the performing arts.Norah Jones eschewed the chance to take her dad Ravi’s name and stayed with her maternal one; yet Declan McManus decided on morphing into “Elvis Costello” (the very antithesis of the “moniker of a shrinking violet”, methinks!)And if you are from the West Country (of England) and you are born with a surname like Causley, have you got a hard act to follow, or does the name actually open doors for one?
Those readers of this who know to whom I am alluding here, will say, “Well,
Charles was a poet, not a singer of traditional folk songs. Plus he was
Cornish to boot.” Well, in response to that, I would point out that Charles was very much a performing artist: his LP “Causley Reads Causley” is perhaps the one piece of vinyl that I would save over all others from the fire. And, as for the fact that the poet was not a Devonian, all I can say is that he came from a part of Cornwall that could hardly be closer to the Devon border.)
And so, when it came to Jim here, I can but add that with ME at least, his
surname automatically made me feel warm towards him. Quite why, one is
uncertain. Perhaps because in my subconscious I had figured he was a blood relative of Charles: one who had been given some of those same family
creative genes. Or indeed, perhaps the opposite: maybe he was really born
“Jim SMITH” and had changed his name to his idol’s! (And this would bring
him additional brownie points from me, for this demonstration of impeccable
Whatever… I was drawn to the album by his name. And three full listenings
later, I am still drawn to the album. But this time by his TALENT. So
let me tell you about it. We start with the voice. The opening track is perhaps not the best indicator. It is his version of “John Barleycorn”, and it shows him drinking deeply at the well of Martin Carthy. Amazingly and
mysteriously, for the following 12 tracks, he manages to shrug off the
Carthyisms and really be himself. And what a pleasing self it is.
And the voice fills a vacuum for me. Ever since Don Shepherd disappeared
from my radar, I have been looking for an open and unmannered voice of the
same timbre and warmth. And in Jim Causley I reckon I have found it.
A very pleasing album of largely traditional (but some self-penned) songs. James Dumbelton and John Dipper lend their fine instrumental hands on many tracks.
There are strong songs like “Tan Yard Side” and that great old favourite
“The Pricklie Bush” counterbalancing the occasional more lightweight and
indeed frivolous number like “Sing Ivy”. And it wouldn’t be a WidGoose
album if it didn’t have an “unknown” song on it that knocked one for six.
Excuse me America, for using a cricketing metaphor!)
The seriously good song on this one is track 12, “Yonders Hill”, which Jim
in his notes tells us comes from the singing of a Dorset gypsy singer. It
is a real revelation, and as full of impact in its way as “When Fishes Fly”
was on the 2003 “Sharp Practice” album by Mary Humphreys & Anahata.
Two other tracks also scored highly for me. Track 7, “Rewind” has Causley
the song writer in Incredible String Band mode: it is an arresting oddity.
The other track that bowled me over was “The Whimple Wassail”. Why it did is interesting. Oh sure, it was very well sung and it did it for me musically, but there was another element to it. And here I need to declare an interest of sorts. It seems that Jim hails from the Devon village of Whimple, near Exeter. And in his notes to the track, he mentions that Whimple was a company town
(these last two were my words: my wrongful use of a cliché term, for “town” it assuredly ain’t! It is only the tiniest of places!).
He points out that Whiteways Cyder was the company that put the village on
the map, and that their products were sold all over the world. Alas, when
they were taken over and became part of a big drinks conglomerate, the
writing was on the wall for the Whimple operation, and nowadays there are
little boxes straight out of Malvina Reynolds, where once that proud
independent drinks company stood.
So what is the special “interest” that I felt bound to declare? Well
simply, it is this: for some years I was their man in the Welsh valleys,
selling their fruit wines, Cydrax, Peardrax and Armadillo British Sherry to pubs and off licences. And I well recall their quirky (to the point of
being idiosyncratic) premises down there in Whimple.
And at this point, let me make my usual reference to WildGoose liner notes. Their universal quality is a hallmark of the label, and this lot is no
exception. But, that said, I have actually found my first WildGoose
spelling error. The company that took Whiteways over was Showerings, not
“Showrings”. )Big deal. I have spotted a missing “e”. I hope I am proud of myself!
But seriously, I have spotted a lot more. I have spotted a real talent
here. An artist who methinks will be destined for a long recording