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STEVE TILSTON "Solorubato" Fellside FECD134

Steve Tilston is an absurdly accomplished singer/songwriter and guitarist who, for years without number, has drawn from the tradition and replenished it with five-star classics like "Slip Jigs and Reels" and "Here's to Tom Paine".

The centrepiece of this hour-long album is "The Turncoat", a grand eleven minute epic about a man who is pressed into the British army to fight the Americans in the War of Independence and proudly swaps sides. Tom Paine would have sung along with it, George III wouldn't.

But this song is untypical. Most of this searingly introspective album is close to "Blood on the Tracks" territory, though there's less anger and more stoicism than in Dylan's blast. From the powerful opener "Living with the Blues" onwards. These songs will click with anyone who has tried to make sense of things after a shattered relationship or other personal crisis. A huge potential audience out there!

The dominant imagery is of broken hearts and dreams, and a hard road to travel. Take "Rocky Road", another Tilston classic, which nods to "The Prickly Bush" in tune and chorus: "Oh this rocky road, it makes the poor heart sore/If I ever get off this rocky road, I'll ne'er get on it any more".

You don't want a steel band following you on the kind of journey that Steve is making. He is very much solo, though his warm voice and the daring skill of his classical influenced acoustic guitar comfortably fill in the corners. For variation he plays the arpegionne (bowed guitar) and mouth organ.

The liner notes tell you nowt about owt, as folk say down Fellside way. They don't tell you, for instance, that "rubato" means an occasional speeding up or slowing down of tempo for purposes of expression. This terseness is probably a vile stratagem to make reviewers think.

I think Steve has gone an extra mile to give us a challenging and rewarding album of the highest quality. And I hope it helps him as much as it could help others.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 30 of The Living Tradition magazine.