Derek Gifford of Folk Northwest
reviews Fruits of the Earth by Jim CausleyI must say the cover put me off at first - young man with bare, hairless (huh!) chest half-way Ďoutí of a pasture holding out an apple - hardly inspirational and a bit pretentious. Frankly, Iíd have preferred uninterrupted views of the East Devon countryside where the singer originates. However, it isnít the cover, itís the content Iím to review.
Opening track - very appealing, strong voice hits you first with an unusual version of John Barleycorn; delivery a little over deliberate - but promising.
Next is Arscott of Tetcott (the hunting of) - his parenthesis not mine; Iíd have written the complete title as one, but never mind - an interesting hunting song from Devon. Itís sensitively accompanied and introduces some subtle harmonies from James Dumbelton. Then comes Phoebe Smithís version of Tan Yard Side (down by the) - note the parenthesis yet again! - which is rather laboured too but is an authentic rendition.
Judy Collinsí version of The Pricklie Bush which Jim learned from Ď..one of Mumís LPs.í follows. Harvest Song has an accordion drone style accompaniment which rather slows down the verses a tad; perhaps a guitar, fiddle or mandolin would have made it more lively. In spite of that itís a good chorus song that will no doubt be picked up by many a singaround singer. Old Riverside (down by the) (more brackets!) is sung in a very similar style to the source singer, Sophie Legg, from whom he got it. He knows his sources does this lad so good for him in that respect.
Rewind is a Causley own composition. A good song with an imaginative accordion backing but still a bit plodding. As a result the phrase Ďlife is here and life is gayí doesnít sound convincing. After May Bradleyís version of The Carnal and the Crane, a strange song I think, although this version makes slightly more sense than the version collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams that I have, I was beginning to lose the will to live! - and then he comes up with The Lusty Young Smith which is, of course, rude and fun! On Sing Ivy, which he learnt from the wonderful Sandra Kerr (she wrote it), he reminds me of a young Carthy but none the worse for that.
By now Iím finding this album a bit of a strain (no doubt youíre feeling the same, reading this!) but I canít put my finger on the reason. Jim sings very well; he has a super voice, with excellent diction and well up front in the mix but itís all a bit monotonous and mostly slow in tempo and he doesnít really perform the songs. I know itís difficult in an audio format, but voice expression, emphasis and intonation should be more evident and, frankly (my dears), it isnít. Also, his programming isnít very well thought out. For example, he could have placed the Lusty Smith further up the playing order to break things up a little. Similarly, we have to wait until track 11 before we get the jolly up-tempo Whimple Wassail with full accompaniment of accordion and fiddle and chorus followed on by a lively tune. Then itís back to mournful with Yonders Hill which is mercifully short!
The album finishes with Unwind, another of Jimsí own compositions, which is a jaunty waltz with a catchy tune and gives us insights into Mr. Causleyís complex personality.
This is a complex album which I found difficulty in appraising which is why Iíve mentioned all the 13 tracks! - something which I donít normally do, of course, but felt I should, dear reader, in order to give you a comprehensive review.