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TONY ROSE - "Bare Bones" - Boneshaker Records BSCD2001
also CHRIS FOSTER "Traces" LTCD3003

I'll tell you why I've grouped these together later. For the moment - one at a time ...

Now here's a name to conjure with - Tony Rose ... ex-Bandoggs, one of the 70s/early 80s English folk scene's big guns. Remember "Poor Fellows" - Tony's last (1982) album? It was a cracker. For reasons that we won't exhume again here, that isn't likely to be re-released and Tony has been variously cajoled, levered and bullied out of early retirement to put down on CD some of his favourite songs - several of which were on "Poor Fellows". So - we're in a very welcome time-warp here, of which more anon.

Tony Rose, for those who are not fortunate enough to remember him first time around, is a singer of primarily English traditional songs, accompanying himself on either guitar, concertina or nothing. He has a warm, unaffected voice and does not ornament the songs at all. His guitar playing (and concertina playing) does not intrude - it's sympathetic, understated and extremely tasteful. The CD's title refers to the songs as the "bare bones of my singing life", but could just as well refer to Tony's approach to songs. He sings and plays with enormous skill and sensitivity, but very, very simply - just enough to flesh out the bare bones of the underlying songs - 17 of them on this CD. It's not that he's a limited player or singer - far from it - it's a matter of choice and good taste!

Here we have several songs associated fairly firmly with other artists (e.g. "Lovely on the Water" - Steeleye Span, "Lakes of Shillin" - Nic Jones) alongside some pretty ubiquitous folk-club standards ("Sheath and Knife", "Dark-Eyed Sailor", "January Man" ...). I'd be surprised if you'll find a song you haven't heard before, but I'll be even more surprised if you find them sung better. He gets right to the heart of the sadness in "The Lakes of Shillin" and somehow I'm surprised to find that I'm not feeling aggrieved that it's not Nic Jones singing. Tony Rose's direct, uncluttered approach claims these songs as his own.

The CD ends with what is for me the definitive version of Bob Dylan's "Boots of Spanish Leather". Sung by an Englishman to the accompaniment of his own concertina, it may not be the Dylan-buffs' ideal, but I think Tony gets to the wistful, longing feel of the song better than anyone. You can tell that I like this one. If you like good, strong songs sung with commitment and without flash - you will too.

Chris Foster is another weel-kent name from the medium-distance past. In the late 1970s, Chris was another "stalwart of the folk scene" - working with the likes of Nic Jones, Martin Carthy, Leon Rosselson and others - a pretty major-league player, in other words. Since two albums in the late 70s, aside of a cassette of "green" songs from a stage show, there's been no recorded output from Chris .. until now, that is.

"Traces" is ten traditional, two written songs, sung by Chris, accompanied by Chris on guitar. That's all. Like Tony Rose, Chris Foster is a very fine singer, with a slightly more elaborate guitar style, a slightly more nasal voice (but very pleasantly so) and no concertina. Like Tony, he gets to the epicentre of a song and is not frightened to tackle songs intimately associated with others, such as "The Famous Flower of Serving Men" (guess who) and "Arthur McBride" (Smart N'Crafty again, or Paul Brady/Andy Irvine). Once again, by choosing a different version, or simply by being a great stylist himself, he claims the songs as his own. Of the two Leon Rosselson songs, my favourite is "Barney's Epic Homer" - a daft, but underlyingly sad and haunting tale of a disaffected schoolboy doomed to a production-line job, "turning little piggies into plastic-packaged sausages". Barney rebels by building a giant, scrap-metal sculpture in his parents' garden. When this is demolished, he sinks back into despair and anonymity. Chris Foster gets the perfect balance of jaunty silliness in the story and pathos as it reaches its sad end.

So. the Tony Rose/Chris Foster connection is clear - two fundamentally traditional singers, both excellent, both absent for some time, both very welcome back. In particular, I hope that these two tour soon - I'll be booking them for my own folk club or festival as soon as possible. What you hear on these two CDs is exactly what you'll hear in your club or at your festival. It's an "old fashioned" concept - one voice, one instrument, strong traditional songs - but it's always been a good one. These two CDs underline just how good it can be.

Alan Murray

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This album was reviewed in Issue 35 of The Living Tradition magazine.