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ERIC BOGLE - "Small Miracles" - Greentrax CDTRAX130

There are several recurring themes running through this album, from expressions of contentment with middle age, family life, and life in Australia, to songs about the innocence and courage of childhood. Running counter to those themes, however, is an acute awareness of the dark side of life, and it's paradoxically by the skillful exposition of the horrors of those aspects of life, that Eric illuminates the whole of this work. At times he does this by subtly making you aware of a world running parallel to the everyday world we inhabit, or contrasting particularly with the sunlit paeans to life in his adoptive country, in similar fashion to the way David Lynch in "Blue Velvet" contrasted the surface appearances of small town America, with the barely glimpsed but increasingly apparent horrors of his alternative underworld.

Whilst Lynch orchestrated his work from a growing disquiet to a shrieking horror, Eric doesn't follow a linear path. The album opens with "Small Miracles" the tale of a courageous wheelchair bound mum and her indomitable daughter, whose joyous antics made Eric realise just how he'd been taking Every precious day of his life for granted. "The Diggers Legacy" which follows is a straightforward song of remembrance, whilst "Dedication Day" is about an incident that took place as a sequel to the Vietnam War and with its focus on celebration, ritual and commemoration, may be about different wars in different places, but is a traceable descendant of "Waltzing Matilda".

The next significant chunk of the album is about life in Australia and range from the personal to the satirical "Sayonara Australia", and it is only the following bridging song about the all too familiar tale of the exploitation about a small town girl who comes to "The Golden City" that prepares us for "Somebody's Daughter" the recounting of the abduction, rape and murder of a young girl. He asks "should songwriters confront such sickening and emotive subjects like these?" and answers his own questions "yes". My feeling is that the song works because of the material it is juxtaposed with elsewhere, although internally it might have difficulty standing up alone because of its unrelieved unrelenting ugliness. Compared with the most powerful song on the album "Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo" its shortcomings are revealed by this greater piece of work which has the dimensions of love, life and innocent belief in it before we are jolted into the realisation that this particular pair's love is doomed to, "lie rotting in a field" near Sarajevo".

The song is simple, stark, moving and utterly magnificent. I'd though every possible seam of anti-war songs had been mined but not so. By posing the question "love conquers all?" and answering "not in Sarajevo it seems" through the tragic story of this innocent Romeo and Juliet, Eric Bogle is devastatingly effective. Forget the David Lynch comparison - this is the heartbreaking story of small people crushed by events beyond their control and has more in common with Chris and Ewan in Grassic Gibbons "Sunset Song". He may not have a technically perfect voice, but no matter who else may sing this, this is sung with such feeling by its creator, that it's his, and his alone.

The last comment is true of "Troy's Song" about a boy who died three weeks before his eighth birthday of an AIDS related illness and the lines "So brave heart just beat through one more day" are amongst the most memorable on the album.

If it all sounds a bit heavy be assured that there is plenty of light and shade. I previously reviewed Eric's "Mirrors" and was less positive about the standard and balance here. Whilst I cannot say that every song is great here, as a complete work, with the lesser songs framing the greater ones the album is extremely good, and as an additional bonus the instrumental work which brings in instruments from cello to psaltery is a lesson on how it should be done. Whilst it's not for me to advise people on how to spend their hard earned cash, I would thoroughly recommend that you go out of your way to hear this. It deserves it.

Hector Christie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 23 of The Living Tradition magazine.