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David Kidman of Netrythms

reviews Long Time Travelling by Jeff Warner

Jeff’s one of the most welcome of the fairly frequent visitors to these shores from the US, and his gigs are always eagerly awaited and supported by those in the know. Quite simply, he’s one of the most charismatic, enthusiastic and genuinely versatile performers on the whole scene, with a warm and approachable personality to match his encyclopaedic knowledge of traditional song – a knowledge he’s always keen to share at every opportunity (I’ve been party to many a post-gig conversation that’s lasted well beyond closing-time!). In live performance, Jeff never presents the same set twice (although inevitably there will be cherishable repeats of some oft-requested favourites from across the years), while he can always be relied upon to unveil some fabulous new discovery from within his exhaustive repertoire – a repertoire developed through continuous long time travelling and collecting, as well as from his parents Anne and Frank, themselves noted song collectors as you know.

Jeff himself is noted for his thoughtful, respectful approach to his source material and his knack of choosing exactly the right type, and degree, of accompaniment to communicate the song without distraction. Another speciality of Jeff’s is his ability to surprise and delight his audience by coming up with songs we thought we knew well in different variants and fresh guises and with copious illuminating supporting background information regarding his sources. And so it proves on this, the latest addition to Jeff’s (not exactly prolific) discography, where a good half of the songs will be at least partially familiar (often maddeningly so), even though at first their titles might deceive. Into this category I’d straightaway place Young But Daily Growing (a variant of The Trees They Do Grow High), Wild Hog In The Woods (an American version of the ancient British ballad Sir Lionel), Bold Harpooner (a relative of Bonny Ship The Diamond), the adapted-shanties Old Moke Picking On The Banjo and Ho Boys Ho, the roustabout song Been All Around This Whole Round World, and By The Hush (aka Paddy’s Lamentation). The latter receives a particularly fine, nay benchmark, rendition here, with some sumptuous vocal harmonies from Carolyn Robson, whereas two other songs receive a haunting nyckelharpa backing courtesy of Vicki Swan. Indeed, in the vast majority of cases, in truth you’d be hard pressed to find better recorded versions on the market! And by dint of his well-researched liner notes, he often convinces you, too, often against all the odds, that these are the preferred versions (did you know of the lumber camp origins of Juberju, for instance?)!

Jeff’s excellent, fully idiomatic singing is supported throughout by his own entirely unassuming instrumental virtuosity on banjo, English concertina and guitar (and not forgetting bones, spoons and jew’s harp!), but on this recording he’s also called upon long-time collaborator Barbara Benn for vocal support on a handful of tracks, and Keith Kendrick’s vibrant Anglo concertina or Pete Sutherland’s lively fiddle on a handful more apiece, while Jonny Dyer, Dave Surrette and Keith Murphy also put in brief yet entirely apt cameo appearances. Finally, spending time in Jeff’s company here will enable you to renew acquaintance with lovely pieces such as Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still (another disc highlight) as well as introducing you to some extremely worthwhile songs you didn’t already know – and there are at least half a dozen of those on this new record, including a splendid gospel rouser I Done Done.

Not only is this disc one of the finest recordings in WildGoose’s illustrious and entirely trustworthy catalogue, but it continues the label’s tradition of acutely attractive accompanying artwork and design that perfectly encapsulates the personality of the musicians and singers and the repertoire contained within – in this case, a front-cover line-drawing of a man joyously holding aloft a concertina, having stepped out of a frontier painting. The old adage “if you only buy one traditional song album this year, make it this one” will be hard to displace from its application to this magnificent disc!